Six Years Later: Citizens United's Winners Aren't Declared on Election Day

As we watch the Republican primary unfold, it's easy to forget for most of the candidates, there are two campaigns. There's only one official campaign, of course, but with one notable exception, every single one of the Republican candidates has a multi-million dollar super PAC supporting them, and in some cases those super PACs have taken over responsibilities that used to be held by the campaigns themselves.

The pundits on TV all talk about how super PACs and other groups will affect who wins; whether Bush's outside group will keep him in the race; whether the billionaires bankrolling Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's super PAC wasted their money on his mismanaged presidential campaign.

But all these questions miss the point. It's fun to think about the influence of money in politics by simply looking at who wins elections or loses them, but winning one individual election or another isn't the goal of the corporate interests exploiting Citizens United.

As we mark the sixth anniversary of the lawless Citizens United decision, we always have to remember the real corrupting power of the decision: the long-term, year-to-year influence big money has over the policies that affect middle-class and working families.

How this influence plays out is even more insidious than it seems, because candidates for office now rely on the support of super PACs to run viable campaigns. So potential candidates for president, or senators up for reelection, know they need to court the support of the billionaires who fund super PACs. To do that, they take positions - or votes - that align with the kinds of economic policies that benefit CEOs, not middle-class and working families.

One of the huge donors to Marco Rubio's super PAC is Larry Ellison, the third-richest person in the world, worth about $43 billion. One of the billionaires behind the group backing Jeb is the former
chairman of AIG. One of Ted Cruz's billionaires is a hedge fund mogul. These political benefactors may not be expecting to call the shots if their preferred candidate is elected. But to gain their support in the first place, you can be sure that not one of the candidates will support making sure the wealthiest pay their fair share.

And to be clear, this is not an exclusively Republican problem. For too long, Democrats haven't done enough to fight back against the type of system that drags the entire policy debate towards corporate-friendly policies. You can bet that the billionaires and corporations funding outside groups don't favor raising the minimum wage.

That's why, a month into my campaign for Senate in Wisconsin, I offered the Badger Pledge, a bipartisan agreement modeled off the successful "People's Pledge" from Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown's Senate race in 2012. A pledge like this - where both sides agree to donate to charity 50% of the cost of an ad - like an attack ad on TV - paid for by an outside group. The benefits of a pledge like this are significant: ads are less negative, issues are focused more on what voters care about, and the huge outside groups don't get to drown out the voices of everyday people. My likely opponent, the incumbent Republican senator, has not accepted the pledge, and it's hard not to conclude that it's because he actually likes the system we have now - where giant corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our system of government.

In the years to come, a future Supreme Court must overturn the Citizens United decision, and I strongly believe it will happen if we elect Democratic presidents. But as election season continues, we can't forget that the hundreds of millions of dollars flooding our elections isn't just deciding who wins or loses - it's deciding whether or not our economy is rigged.