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How Citizens United Continues to Transform Money in Politics

Years after Supreme Court ruling, a majority of Americans assign a lot of blame for dysfunction in the political system to "wealthy political donors" and "money in politics"

  A 2012 protest against the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision by Occupy Miami activists. (Occupy Miami photo via Flickr.)

A 2012 protest against the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision by Occupy Miami activists. (Occupy Miami photo via Flickr.)

As of last month, number of years since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which lifted limits on money in politics and led to an explosion in the number of outside spending groups that are supposed to operate independently of campaigns and parties and aren't subject to rigorous disclosure rules: 8

Year in which spending by major party organizations stopped accelerating: 2010

Year in which direct spending by U.S. Senate and House candidates began to decline: 2012

Factor by which spending by outside groups increased between the 2010 and 2016 elections: 17

In 2016, percent of money spent in connection with presidential and congressional campaigns that came from these outside groups: more than 20

During the 2016 federal election cycle, total amount the top 20 individual donors alone gave to outside spending groups: more than $500 million

Rank of Tom Steyer, a California entrepreneur and environmentalist, and his wife among the top individual givers: 1

Amount the Steyers contributed: over $91 million


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Percent of their contributions that benefitted Democrats and liberals: 100

Number of the top 20 individual donors who are based in the South: 4

Total amount they gave: $83.7 million

Percent of their giving that benefitted Republicans and conservatives: 50

In the 2016 election, number of ballot initiatives voters across the U.S. approved to reduce the amount of money in politics and empower ordinary voters over wealthy donors: nearly 2 dozen

Percent of Americans who assign a lot of blame for dysfunction in the political system to "wealthy political donors" and "money in politics": 65

Percent who believe money in politics is at least somewhat to blame: 98

(Click on figure to go to source.)

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Sue Sturgis

Sue Sturgis

Sue Sturgis is the Director and regular contributor to the Institute for Southern Study's online magazine, Facing South, with a focus on energy and environmental issues. Sue is the author or co-author of five Institute reports, including Faith in the Gulf (Aug/Sept 2008), Hurricane Katrina and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (January 2008) and Blueprint for Gulf Renewal (Aug/Sept 2007). Sue holds a Masters in Journalism from New York University.

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