2012: Seeing the Long Arc of American Democracy Reversed

Mitt, congratulations.

At long last, you are the official Republican nominee for president.

And a special shout-out to the people without whom your victory would have been impossible: I am speaking of course, of John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito: The deciders in the calamitous Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, which abolished limits on independent expenditures for political campaigns.

The Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United has since been the basis for another decision in the DC Circuit Court that gave individuals (corporations and unions, as well) the right to make unlimited contributions to so-called super PACs that support individual candidates. The decisions have unleashed some very grouchy billionaires on the rest of us -- the prime example being Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul, who gave Newt Gingrich's super PAC 15 million dollars.

But the single greatest beneficiary of the extraordinary new power of super PACs was Mitt Romney, whose super PAC, Restore Our Future, run by former Romney staffers, which has raised more than 50 million dollars in unlimited contributions from corporations and individuals. Its largest donor is Bob Perry, who has already contributed nearly 5 million dollars to Restore Our Future, and who was the lead funder for the 2004 "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," the vicious campaign against the military record of the 2004 Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry. The Swift Boat allegations were discredited by multiple independent news organizations, including the New York Times.

Is Citizens United really responsible for the nomination of Mitt Romney? That certainly is the view of many independent observers of the Republican presidential primary. Or, better yet, just ask Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry about their views. To a person, they have said that without Mitt's super PAC buddies, and their "uncoordinated" (spare me) negative attacks on them, the ultimate outcome for the Republican presidential nominating process would have been very different.

And the financial evidence certainly backs them up: The Romney super PAC spent 21 million dollars of ferocious negative advertising against Santorum and 18 million dollars against Gingrich (10 million against Gingrich in the Florida primary, alone).

Thus, it can be fairly argued that Citizens United has already changed the outcome of a presidential primary. And it is a decision that is sure to inflict even more damage to our political system by contributing to a growing belief among average Americans that the system is rigged for the wealthy and the well connected.

But forget about Mitt's nomination, the growing alienation of Americans from their political system, or the huge public disapproval of Citizens United that has been revealed in every poll that has been taken on the subject. Consider this vastly more important reality:

Citizens United has reversed the long arc of American democracy and our steady progress to expand the voting franchise so that all of our citizens have an equal voice in our political system.

This journey has never been easy, and it has involved some of the most celebrated and difficult moments in American history -- a struggle that raged across every region of our country, and one that involved millions of American men and women and people of all colors.

But now with the stroke of a judicial pen (or five pens), the Roberts Court has reversed a century of regulating campaign contributions, and in so doing, they have given the wealthiest among us more power to influence the outcome of elections than they have ever enjoyed.

It is hard to believe this outcome is one our founders would have approved -- or ever thought possible.