Little Rock, Arkansas personal injury attorneys see the impact of the 2010 Citizens United ruling as enormous and growing. The ruling removed caps on spending by corporations, associations and unions as long as they aren’t coordinating efforts with specific candidates for elective office. In 2012, non-party outside spending tripled the 2008 total, the result of super PACs, which can accept these unlimited contributions.
Nearly $4 billion was spent on the 2014 midterm elections, about $333 million more than the 2010 midterms. Spending by outside groups was about $700 million of that figure, compared to $309 million in 2010.[i]Another interesting fact about spending in 2014 is that for the first time since 1990, the total number of individual donors has not risen. Only 666,773 individuals donated more than $200 in this election cycle, compared to 817,464 in 2010 or 792,077 in 2006.
Obviously, if there are fewer donors and total donations have increased, donations are larger. If we apply the reasoning of the Supreme Court finding that money is a constitutionally protected form of speech, we reach the obvious conclusion that fewer citizens are speaking to their elected officials, and those that are have seen the value of their speech declining. $200 doesn’t buy nearly the speech it did 10 years ago.
Perhaps more significantly after Citizens United we have seen a dramatic rise of nonprofit groups that don’t disclose their donors publicly but enjoy the same rights to spend money as for-profit corporations. These nonprofits groups, and the money that is given to their causes are typically encompassed with the term ‘dark money.’
Spending by dark money groups increased from $5.2 million in 2006 to $160 million in 2010 and to $219 million at last count in 2014. Of the $219 spent in 2014, about 70% was spent by groups that favor Republicans.
Comparing 2006 directly to 2014 shows the most stark contrast. In 2014, dark money spending was 4,200% higher than 2006 although the total number of individual donors was 84% of the 2006 total.
There is a distinct difference in how each party raises and spends this money. For fully disclosing outside groups, blue leaning groups account for about 60% of the money and red leaning groups account for 40%. For partially disclosing outside groups, red leaning groups account for 72% and blue leaning groups account for 28%. For outside groups that don’t disclose any information about their donors, red leaning groups account for 80% and blue leaning groups account for 20%. [ii]
While the increased influence of dark money in elections is significant, even that impact may not be as significant as the change in financing for judicial elections. To begin, it is important to point out that total spending in judicial elections has increased significantly since the 1990’s. Before 1990, most judicial elections were much less expensive, and attracted even less publicity. Since 1990, the amounts spent have grown each cycle, reaching $83 million in the 1990’s to $206 million in the 2000’s.
In the 2012 cycle, outside spending reached almost $25 million, about a sevenfold increase since 2000. In the 2014 cycle, North Carolina candidates for the State Supreme Court raised $5.2 million. Outside groups spent over $12 million on TV ad buys for judicial races in 10 states.
As the amount of money spent in judicial elections is changing, so is the tone of campaign ads. Two judicial races in the 80’s are typically seen as the first where attack ads were used. Tennessee and California both had judicial races where the death penalty issue was used against one of the candidates. In the 1990’s