By RICHARD MORRISSETTE
A U.S. Supreme Court decision that permits corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in the guise of “free speech” has consequences at all levels of government, including local elections in Oklahoma.
The case was Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, and the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in the case on Jan. 21, 2010. Citizens United opened the door to so-called “dark money” in the guise of “free speech.”
Citizens United is a political action committee [PAC] that was founded in 1988 with major funding from the Koch Brothers – right-wing industrialists who have the second-largest privately owned company in the United States.
“Dark money” refers to political spending that is meant to influence the decision of a voter, where the donor is not disclosed and the source of the money is unknown. Depending upon the circumstances, dark money can refer to funds spent by a political nonprofit or a super PAC. Here’s how:
– Political nonprofits are under no legal obligation to disclose their donors. When they choose not to, they are considered dark money groups.
– Super PACs can also be considered dark money groups in certain situations. While these organizations are legally required to disclose their donors, they can accept unlimited contributions from political non-profits and “shell” corporations that may not have disclosed their donors; in these cases they are considered dark money groups.
Citizens United was one of the most poisonous decisions the Supreme Court has ever issued. It allows wealthy Americans to hide in anonymity while stealing our democracy.
A recent story in the state’s largest newspaper mentioned the millions of dollars in dark money that non-profits spent in contributions from well-heeled and corporate-backed donors to defeat SQ 779, the proposed penny sales tax for education.
In case you think such expenditures are nickel-and-dime stuff, here’s what happened in my campaign earlier this year for the Oklahoma City Ward 4 City Council seat.
In a four-way primary, I nearly won outright, receiving 48% of the vote. But in the general election, I was defeated by 16 points: 58% to 42%.
What led to such a dramatic reversal? In the final days before the vote, a massive amount of “dark money” was pumped into the campaign to finance a last-minute advertising campaign in support of my opponent.
Records filed after the election showed that just under $100,000 from PACs and “dark money” sources was spent on my opponent’s campaign – for a municipal job that pays $12,000 per year.
The contributions to my opponent’s campaign included $45,000 from an outfit called “Catalyst Oklahoma;” the only name associated with the organization on campaign expenditure reports is that of former state Sen. Glenn Coffee. During the week prior to the April 4 election, Catalyst Oklahoma spent $10,000 on telephone calls, $15,000 on canvassing and $20,000 on digital ads for my opponent.
As was demonstrated right here in Oklahoma City, Citizens United enables a gilded class of elites to maintain an iron grip on a political system that benefits them to the exclusion of everyone else.
– Richard Morrissette, an attorney in south Oklahoma City, represented District 92 in the Oklahoma House for 12 years