Marking the 12th anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United decision, the advocacy group Americans for Tax Fairness on Friday published a report showing that U.S. billionaires dumped a staggering $1.2 billion into the 2020 elections—a 39-fold increase compared to 2010.
"Billionaires shouldn't get to use their enormous wealth to pick and choose who they want in office."
Over the course of the 2020 election cycle, ATF found, America's 661 billionaires contributed nearly $1 out of every $10 spent attempting to influence the outcome and determine who sets policy for a nation of 330 million.
Nearly a third of the billionaire campaign funding in 2020 came from the mega-rich couple Sheldon and Miriam Adelson—former President Donald Trump's top donors—and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who doled out $152.5 million during the 2020 election cycle, not including the $1.1 billion he spent on his own short-lived White House bid.
Democratic businessman Tom Steyer, his wife Kathryn Taylor, and Republican hedge fund manager Ken Griffin also spent big in 2020, collectively donating over $400 million.
Frank Clemente, ATF's executive director, said in a statement that the findings lay bare the "disastrous" consequences of the high court's 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which toppled longstanding campaign finance restrictions and opened the floodgates to unlimited election spending by corporations and rich individuals.
And the reason billionaires have so much cash to give to political campaigns, Clemente stressed, is that they've been able to accumulate vast fortunes without any real threat of higher taxes. ATF estimated in a separate report out earlier this week that the 10 richest U.S. billionaires have added $1 billion to their combined wealth every day of the pandemic.
"Weak taxation of the wealthy combined with anemic regulation of campaign fundraising have handed America's billionaires outsized political influence to go along with their huge economic clout," said Clemente.
According to ATF's analysis, the distribution of billionaire cash between Republican and Democratic candidates was pretty evenly split in 2020, with 55% of the total going to GOP campaigns.
"In the 2010 election cycle, billionaires gave $19 million to Republicans and $11 million to Democrats," ATF noted. "By the 2020 cycle, those respective figures were $656 million and $539 million."
"The secret political spending we have seen over the last 12 years has corrupted our political process."
The advocacy organization argued that such campaign donations "are a profitable investment: they buy access to politicians and influence over tax and other policies that can save tycoons billions of dollars."
"While that $1.2 billion 'investment' in 2020 was massive, it totaled less than 0.1% of billionaire wealth (and less than one day's worth of their pandemic wealth growth), leaving almost unlimited room for future growth in billionaire campaign spending," the group warned.
In recent years, members of Congress have introduced constitutional amendments aimed at overturning Citizens United, but none of the efforts have gotten off the ground. A number of state and local governments have also passed resolutions urging Congress to take action to reverse the 2010 decision, to no avail.
"Corporations are not people, and billionaires shouldn't get to use their enormous wealth to pick and choose who they want in office," ATF said Friday. "It's well beyond time for Citizens United to go, and to put real action towards getting big money out of politics. Our democracy depends on it."
Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said in a statement marking the ruling's anniversary that "the secret political spending we have seen over the last 12 years has corrupted our political process toward corporate interests and robbed citizens of authentic representation."
"It plays a large role in the failures to defend our democracy, pass Build Back Better, address climate change, fix our healthcare system, and much more," said Gilbert. "The amount of money flowing into our elections is unprecedented and increases every cycle. A handful of billionaires exert enormous influence over our politics. And as a result, elected officials have grown ever more responsive to the desires of corporations and the ultrawealthy at the expense of their constituents."