Citizen’s United Case Started with Opposition to Hillary Clinton, But She may End Up being its Biggest Winner

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ironic might be the best way to describe Hillary Clinton’s relationship with Citizens United, the landmark case that began with her and that has redefined the political fundraising landscape in America.


The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (pdf) began when the plaintiff, Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit, sought to run commercials promoting its anti-Clinton film (Hillary: The Movie).


The ruling wound up doing more than just aiding the plaintiff’s efforts, when the court’s conservative justices decided to use the case to eliminate federal limits on campaign spending by corporations, unions and nonprofits.


Expenditures on federal elections for Congress and the presidency by independent groups soared in the wake of Citizens United.


Now, “on the fourth anniversary of Citizens United—a case that helped transmute the nation's campaign financing system into one of unlimited spending and endless electioneering—Clinton may become its beneficiary-in-chief, poised to cash in like no other political candidate has before,” according to Dave Levinthal of The Center for Public Integrity.


Officially, Clinton has not said that she’s running for president in 2016. But two Democratic fundraising machines are gearing up nonetheless to help her if/when she announces.


For example, the Ready for Hillary super PAC raised more than $4 million from 33,000 donors last year. This big a haul this early—for a candidate not even in the race yet—portends a juggernaut fundraising operation backing Clinton that mirrors the George W. Bush strategy in 2000 of tying up major donors early and intimidating potential primary opponents with a well-filled coffer.


Another super PAC in her corner is Priorities USA Action, a Democratic money vacuum that helped President Barack Obama in 2012, which is now “transitioning into a Clinton shadow operation,” Levinthal wrote.


In the case of both super PACs, the Citizens United ruling makes it easier for them to collect enormous sums to pay for pro-Clinton advertising (or commercials bashing her would-be Republican rival).


“I bet Hillary Clinton absolutely loves the Citizens United decision because she knows it's going to help her—it makes her stronger and a more viable candidate,” David Bossie, president of Citizens United, told The Center for Public Integrity. “And yeah, the irony of Hillary benefiting from Citizens United is not lost on me. Frankly, I'm entertained by it.”


Bossie is still highly critical of Clinton, saying she wants to “have it both ways” with campaign finance issues. Back in 2001, when she was serving in the U.S. Senate, Clinton cosponsored the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. She also spoke out in favor of public financing for campaigns while seeking the 2008 Democratic nomination for president.


But there is no indication she will reject the millions of dollars in help that the super PACs are preparing to unleash for the 2016 race.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Hillary Clinton: the 'Citizens United' Candidate (by Dave Levinthal, Center for Public Integrity)

Pro-Hillary Clinton Super PAC Posts Substantial 2013 Fundraising Haul (by Dan Merica, CNN)

Super-Rich Campaign Donors Look Forward to “Citizens United 2” Supreme Court Case (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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