End Citizens United started as an idea among three young online fundraising specialists and ballooned into a movement that now looks to define all elections at all levels in the future.
On January 21st, 2010, the election process in the United States changed forever. That day, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the landmark case Citizens United v. FEC. Its decision in favor of Citizens United determined that organizations had the same power as individuals in donating to or acting on behalf of political campaigns. It opened the door for billions of dollars of untraceable money to enter elections. It left candidates scrambling to win the favor of wealthy donors, rather than ordinary voters.
At the time, Greg Berlin, Charles Starnes and Jake Lipsett were in three different parts of the country. Berlin led digital campaigns for the Democratic Congressional Committee in Washington D.C. Starnes managed funds for Democratic candidate Dan Seals’ campaign for Congress in Chicago, and Lipsett was still completing his political science degree at the University of Southern California. Five years later, all three found themselves working for the DCC. Yet they found themselves frustrating, having trouble passing the Democratic Party’s agenda. They started to blame this lack of progress on the influx of corporate money thanks to Citizens United.
They sought to change that. And the solution was to create the political action committee End Citizens United. It didn’t take long for the three founders to discover how many Americans from all walks of life felt the same as they did about the country’s political process.
The now-famous saying in regards to the 2010 ruling on Citizens United is some iteration of “corporations are people too.”
Established on March 1st, 2015, the new political action committee took the capitol by storm on a platform that uses grassroots funding on behalf of pro-reform candidates. They not only reject corporate funding for their campaigns, but they also promise to work towards overturning Citizens United once in office. The PAC garners support through education on the issue, donations, and advocacy on a state-by-state basis.
The now-famous saying in regards to the 2010 ruling on Citizens United is some iteration of “corporations are people too.” End Citizens United began with the sole purpose of disproving this new-normal statement. In this effort, the organization seeks to educate the population and keep campaign financing on the forefront of national issues. Its website offers a research hub that explains the different organizations able to support a campaign and describes the influx of foreign money into America’s elections, particularly during the 2016 presidential election. Its research also delves into the opponents who use Super PACs for funding their campaigns. In December of 2017, the organization released a list called the “Big Money 20” of Republican members of Congress who they say value special interests over their constituents.
As a way to track its progress, End Citizens United also conducts national polling of voters about campaign financing. A poll published in August before the presidential election, showed that 73% of voters had an unfavorable opinion of Citizens United, and 89% were concerned about the influence of foreign money. A more recent study conducted in October of 2017 by The Washington Post and University of Maryland showed that 65% of those survey said money had “a lot of blame” in causing dysfunction in the U.S. political system. A further 31% said it had “some” blame.
Since its founding, End Citizens United has built a legitimate platform for pro campaign finance reform candidates to spread their message and connect with a national audience. According to its most recent internal report from April of 2018, the organization now has a network of 3.9 million members nationwide. 400,000 of those members are donors that have made over 2.7 million contributions, amounting to $38 million in donations. This money goes towards the campaigns of candidates backed by End Citizens United throughout the country.
As a way to keep track of these candidates, End Citizens United has a database of all of its endorsed challengers and incumbents around the country. With its endorsement, these candidates have access to the fundraising capabilities of the organization and receive exposure on the PAC’s social media accounts. End Citizens United endorses 91 incumbent members of Congress and 97 challengers for the seats in the upcoming mid-term and special elections. Some notable incumbents are Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Ma.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-Ny.). Notable challengers include Pennsylvania’s Susan Wild (D) and Ohio’s Danny O’Connor (D)—whose special election is next week.
The organization also conducts polling in select states to aid endorsed candidates. For example, 63% of respondents to a 2018 poll of Pennsylvania voters believed that special interest money in elections was a major problem. This information strengthens endorsed challenger Susan Wild’s alignment with End Citizens United in her campaign for representative of Pennsylvania’s 7th congressional district. These polls also seek to engage voters on a more local level that is often lost when running a nationwide campaign.
End Citizens United started as an idea among three young online fundraising specialists and ballooned into a movement that now looks to define all elections at all levels in the future. Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president in 2016 was defined by his rejection of corporate money. His platform raised over $180 million and challenged eventual nominee Hillary Clinton until the end at the Democratic National Convention. Even though he didn’t win the nomination, his campaign showed the country that corporate money is not necessary to garner support and have political success. Thanks to the Sanders revelation and its continued hard work, End Citizens United now sits at the forefront of another shift in election process.
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