Larry Stirling, a former legislator and judge, recently criticized my efforts to address out-of-control spending in our elections resulting from the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that opened the door to unlimited, unregulated, undisclosed campaign spending through super PACs.
In the four years since the Citizens United decision was made, we have seen the landscape of our election system fundamentally change. In the 2012 election alone, the super PACs created by Citizens United spent more than half a billion dollars on just the presidential race — more than three-quarters of that on negative attack ads.
While some extreme conservatives like Stirling or my opponent (whom Stirling is backing) might think Citizens United is a good thing, it’s hardly some group of “elitists” who disagree, as Stirling suggested in his essay. Nearly 90 percent of Americans think there is too much corporate money in politics, and a similar overwhelming majority wants to limit this kind of spending.
And that support is from across the board: Republicans, Independents, Democrats all overwhelmingly support restricting the flow of unregulated, unaccountable corporate spending.
The free flow of super PAC spending is drowning out the impact of regular people. Those who are willing to put some of their hard-earned dollars behind candidates and issues they believe in should be the most important voices in our elections, but thanks to Citizens United, it’s harder than ever for those voices to be heard.
That’s why one of the first actions I took when I got to Congress was to co-sponsor a joint resolution that would reverse Citizens United through a constitutional amendment that declares corporations are not people. Whether you agree with the Supreme Court’s decision or not, we, the actual living breathing people, still have the right to update our Constitution for modern realities, and it’s clear to me that in this case, we should.
Our communities deserve to know who's funding what in a saturated market of attack ads and they deserve elected leaders who are accountable and transparent. Overturning Citizens United is one way we can to do this, but there is more we can and must do.
This past year, I also co-sponsored the Leadership PAC Limitation Act. This bill makes it illegal for elected officials to raise money from special interest groups that they can then turn around and illegally use for personal use. And they do.
In fact, a “60 Minutes” story that aired in October reported that some members of Congress routinely use Leadership PACs to profit personally from their political office by converting campaign cash into lavish lifestyle upgrades.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have turned into golf trips, NFL games and winery tours with campaign contributors. The Leadership PACs are supposed to be used to help other candidates, not for personal enrichment. This has to change.
My race for Congress last year was one of the most expensive in the country, with more outside spending by super PACs than almost any other race in the country.
And already this year, my opponent has been benefitting for months from ads attacking me by one of the “dark money” groups that Stirling so enthusiastically defends. This single group — Americans for Prosperity — has already spent nearly $20 million on ads for the November election, still nine months away.
But while we know that it’s run by tea party champions the Koch Brothers, none of us will ever know where all that money comes from. It’s important for the voters to know, too, that the Koch brothers and all their millions are backing DeMaio in this race. DeMaio has yet to take a stand opposing Citizens United.
The voters deserve better, not just because it’s the right thing to do for a healthy democracy, but because there are just so many more important things for Congress to do.
People are counting on us to fix the country, to boost our economy so they can get good jobs and buy a home and send their kids to college. And while Stirling or my opponent might think that UCSD (or 90 percent of America) is elitist, I’m proud that our community is home to one of the finest universities in the world, all with a public institution price tag, and I’m proud that UCSD is a model for high quality, affordable education as Congress works to provide opportunities to all of our children.
These are the reasons I ran for Congress — not to spend time on the phone hounding people for campaign cash. Do I do it? Yes, I have to. I’d like to stay in Congress to keep fighting for our common goals and values. But there’s got to be a better way than the system we have now, and I’m proud to be the one in this race taking a stand.
There’s overwhelming agreement in this country that four years of anonymous super PACs controlling elections is long enough. That kind of agreement is tough to come by these days, and I don’t want to lose an opportunity to build consensus and cooperation across the aisle to really accomplish something.
So help me send a message to Congress to adopt a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and bring the focus back to policy, the issues and the job that we were elected to do.
Peters represents California's 52nd Congressional District, which includes the cities of Coronado, Poway and much of the City of San Diego, from La Jolla along the coast to downtown, Scripps Ranch, Rancho Bernardo and other north inland communities. He was elected in 2012.