NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Six Myths About Campaign Money

August 17, 2010

In "Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission," the high court ruled 5-4 that unions and corporations could spend money from their vast treasuries on campaigns.  It is a critical turning point in the world of election law, but advocates fighting over free speech versus corruption remain as polarized as ever.  The following are some of the myths -- each contains grains of truth but papers over important nuances, says the National Journal. 

Corporate money will now overwhelm elections: 

  • President Obama has been among those sounding the alarm that corporations, in the wake of Citizens United, will swamp campaigns with private money; so far, however, no such corporate spending tsunami has materialized.
  • If anything, labor unions have jumped in more quickly to exploit the new rules, dumping millions of dollars into Arkansas' Democratic Senate primary and other high-profile races this year.
  • One reason may be that, unlike corporate executives, union leaders do not risk offending shareholders and customers if they openly bankroll candidates. 

The Citizens United ruling won't change much: 

  • In the absence of an obvious corporate money surge, some analysts have downplayed the importance of the Citizens United ruling, arguing that it does little to alter the political playing field.
  • However, the ruling has sweeping, long-term ramifications, according to election law experts and even some conservatives.
  • Although spikes in corporate and union spending have yet to materialize, the decision signals a turnabout on the Supreme Court and a seismic shift in constitutional and campaign finance law. 

Congress is more corrupt than ever: 

  • In one poll, nearly 80 percent of respondents told a bipartisan team of researchers earlier this year that members of Congress are controlled by the groups that help fund their political campaigns.
  • Yet leading political scientists have found the exact opposite; they've hunted in vain for proof of a correlation between money and votes over a period of decades.
  • In study after study, "the evidence is scant to nonexistent" that political action committee contributions affect roll-call votes, says Stephen Ansolabehere, a professor of government at Harvard University. 

Source: Eliza Newlin Carney, "Six Myths About Campaign Money," National Journal, August 7, 2010. 

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