The Role of Super PACs in Menendez Corruption Charges

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., speaks to reporters during a news conference in Newark, N.J. on Friday, March 6, 2015. A person fa
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., speaks to reporters during a news conference in Newark, N.J. on Friday, March 6, 2015. A person familiar with a federal investigation says the Justice Department is expected to bring criminal charges against the New Jersey Democrat in the coming weeks. Menendez says that he has always behaved appropriately in office. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The indictment of Senator Robert Menendez illustrates in stark terms the corrupting role that Super PACs now play in our political system.

The Menendez indictment alleges that a donor gave $600,000 in corporate funds to Senate Majority PAC, a Super PAC, and earmarked the money for the senator's reelection campaign. The Super PAC was used as the vehicle to buy corrupting influence with Senator Menendez.

The Supreme Court in Citizens United said that the "independence" of outside spending groups would protect against corruption, but this indictment shows that the "independence" provides no protection at all.

The Citizens United decision by the Roberts Court unleashed Super PACs and the result is that a donor can bypass the candidate contribution limits to make a huge contribution to directly benefit an officeholder and buy influence in return.

A previous Supreme Court in Buckley v Valeo in 1976 upheld candidate contribution limits because the Court found that a system of unlimited campaign contributions is inherently corrupt.

The Menendez indictment shows that by opening the door for Super PACs, the Roberts Court destroyed candidate contribution limits as a practical matter and has left us with the inherently corrupt system an earlier and far wiser Supreme Court warned the nation about.

Senator Menendez and his favor-seeking benefactor were caught, but less blatant and equally corrupting exchanges of government benefits for huge Super PAC contributions will undoubtedly continue to take place and never be caught.

As a result of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, there is simply no way to protect against huge contributions to Super PACs being used to buy corrupting influence with officeholders and to buy government decisions.

The Menendez case is the most concrete example to date of how the current Supreme Court has paved the way for the corruption of our political system and of our democracy.