Special interest groups should not control agenda


Gov. Chris Christie wasn’t the only big winner in last Tuesday’s election. The unprecedented rise of special interest spending in our democracy is the real “elephant in the room.”

Empowered by recent Supreme Court rulings, special interests on both ends of the political spectrum are spending record-breaking amounts to sway elections at every level of government. This flood of Big Money is drowning out the voices of ordinary voters like us and blocking progress on the issues we care about, whether it’s the rising cost of college, lack of access to affordable health care or global warming.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission lifted limits on what outside spending groups — super PACs and other non-profit groups that, technically, can’t coordinate with political candidates or their campaigns — can spend in our elections. Not surprisingly, the 2012 elections became the most expensive in history.

Special interests spent more than $1 billion last year – more than triple the amount they spent in 2008. And in New Jersey, outside spending is reaching astronomical levels as well: special interests spent over $35 million dollars to influence the outcome of the gubernatorial and state legislative races, compared to the previous high of $14 million in 2009.

The Supreme Court has super-sized the influence of billionaire mega-donors while marginalizing the interests of everyday Americans, no matter what their political affiliation. After all, it’s not students like us who are payrolling the super PACs — Research by New Jersey Public Interest Research Group and D?mos has shown that more than 93 percent of super PAC fundraising came from contributions of $10,000 or more, while nearly 60 percent of super PAC fundraising came from just 159 donors giving at least $1 million.

And what’s even worse: this Big Money system has given tremendous power to out-of-state groups looking to influence New Jersey politics. In the Garden State, more than 99 percent of non-candidate, non-party money spent in the 2012 House and Senate races came from out-of-state groups, most of which were super PACs. How can the issues we care about get the attention they deserve when out-of-state groups dominate elections that should be decided by New Jersey voters?

Enough is enough. The vast majority of Americans, including students, think that the super PAC campaign system created by Citizens United has to go. The 2012 presidential race and New Jersey’s state contests this fall serve as a reminder for just how urgently need legislative reforms to stop our elections from going to the highest bidder.

NJPIRG students’ activism already got the State Senate and Assembly, the City of Newark and Essex County, among others, to pass resolutions calling on Congress to overturn Citizens United. With grassroots pressure growing, New Jerseyans are sending a clear message to Washington: Big Money has no place in government of, by and for the People.

Nick Jermer is a Rutgers Business School sophomore majoring in accounting and NJPIRG student chapter chair. Anna Barcy is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in in Latin American studies and comparative literature and a Busch Campus Representative for the Rutgers University Student Assembly.

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