Note: This story has been updated for clarity.
Before the Republican winner of the Iowa Caucus had been determined on Tuesday night, Vermont’s independent Senator Bernie Sanders appeared on the set of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, touting a new book and his petition to overturn the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision by way of a Constitutional amendment. “Corporations are not people,” Sanders told host and satirist-comedian Stephen Colbert, who portrays a right-leaning pundit on the show. “They do not have freedom of expression rights in terms of buying elections.”
Sanders has not been standing his ground alone. From the Iowa campaign trail to the Montana Supreme Court, and from New York to California, the wake of Citizens United has rippled across the country this week in a range of political, judicial, and media encounters—a veritable mélange of sudden (and sobering?) reckoning with the ruling that changed the parameters for corporate involvement in American political life.
Two years ago this month, the high court ruled that corporations have First Amendment free speech rights and that they can make unlimited donations for electioneering, making way for anonymous political spending and the formation of super PACs, which are not limited in how much money they can receive from corporate donors.
Until now, the only real-world electoral testing ground for the ruling had been the 2010 midterm Congressional elections. But with the semi-official start of the presidential election season in Iowa, the influence of super PACs came rushing to the fore. The New York Times chronicled the demise of Newt Gingrich’s campaign in light of the negative attack adds run by Restore Our Future—the multimillion dollar super PAC that backs Mitt Romney and is run by former Romney aides:
Democrats and Republicans alike have singled out the $2.8 million-and-counting air deluge as the biggest factor in Mr. Gingrich’s precipitous drop in polls of Iowa voters and Mitt Romney’s corresponding rise, reshaping the critical first contest of the Republican primary season to Mr. Romney’s benefit.
The ads, which continue to blanket Iowa days before the caucuses here, were created and paid for by people with deep knowledge of the Romney campaign’s strategic thinking, close relationships with Mr. Romney’s most generous donors, and even research on what television viewers like and dislike most about Mr. Romney himself.
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