Catholic University Law Review


As political spending reaches new highs in the 2012 election cycle, and as the controversy surrounding wealthy donors and interest groups grows, polls demonstrate a surge of cynicism among Americans who profess a belief that the American political system is corrupt. The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United made possible the most recent expansion of political spending. In this case, the question was whether allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political advertising would result in corruption or the appearance of corruption. The majority on the Court determined that it would not. Many observers have disputed the majority’s conclusion with respect to corruption; the effect on the appearance of corruption has received far less attention. This Article focuses on this latter question, arguing that there is a growing appearance-of-corruption problem in American politics. The 2012 election cycle saw a modest growth in small donor giving and volunteerism, but voter turnout was down from the previous two presidential elections. Meanwhile, polls reveal that more than ever, Americans believe that money is corrupting the political process. This Article explains the connection between the Court’s recent campaign finance decisions and the current disillusionment of the American public. The Article also explains why data from the 2012 election likely underestimates the problem, and why the repercussions of our appearance-of-corruption problem are likely to grow if the law continues to permit unchecked political campaign spending.