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Citizens United 10 Years Later: 25 Ultrarich People Have Spent $1.4 Billion on Elections

New Public Citizen Research Shows Growing Influence of Billionaires, Increased Corporate Spending


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Over the past 10 years, just 25 ultrarich individuals have poured $1.4 billion into super PACs, corporations have spent at least half a billion dollars to influence elections and donors in a small number of majority-white zip codes exert a massively oversized influence on our political system, a pair of Public Citizen reports released today found.

Since Jan. 21, 2010 – the day the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its infamous ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission – just 25 ultrawealthy donors have been responsible for nearly half (47%) of all contributions by individuals to super PACs, providing $1.4 billion in super PAC contributions out of $2.96 billion in super PAC contributions from individuals, according to a new report “Oligarch Overload.”

Republican casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam were by far the largest super PAC donors, contributing $292 million since 2010, or 10% of all super PAC contributions. Hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer ($255 million) and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ($155 million), were the second-and third-largest donors.

“This surge in megadonors over the past decade means that the 10-year mark of the Citizens United decision is something to bemoan rather than commemorate,” said Alan Zibel, research director of Public Citizen’s Corporate Presidency Project and author of the report. “This is not what democracy looks like. This is the world Citizens United made.”

Campaign donations from the ultrawealthy appear to be monochromatic as well. Political donors in the top 10 majority white zip codes for candidate and super PAC contributions gave a combined $1.85 billion, compared with $179 million for political donors in the top 10 majority-minority zip codes for campaign and super PAC donations.

Another report released today by Public Citizen, “Corporations United,” found that more than 2,200 corporations have reported a total of $313 million in donations to more than 500 political entities for the purpose of influencing elections. Additionally, 30 corporate trade groups, which do not disclose their donors, have spent $226 million, for a corporate spending total of $539 million.

Most (16) of these top corporate donors are private corporations, and half of these (eight) are run by billionaires. Only four of these top corporate donors are publicly traded. With seven corporate donors, the fossil fuel industry is the best represented among the top 20 corporate donors. The top trade group spender by far is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – a trade group that represents largely multinational megacorporations, which spent $143 million.

However, because of Citizens United, corporations can channel as much money as they want into dark money groups that influence elections, so it’s not possible to know exactly how much corporate election spending is occurring.

“After Citizens United, corporations appear to have become political piggybanks for the ruling class,” said Rick Claypool, a research director for Public Citizen’s president’s office and author of the report. “It’s through these insidious means that wealthy interests drown out the voices of struggling Americans.”

Read the “Oligarch Overload” report here.

Read the “Corporations United” report here.

Read the nine ways the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling has eroded democracy, and its one positive outcome.