Essex County Takes Stand Against Unlimited Special Interest Spending in Elections
Freeholder Gill’s Resolution Calls on Congress to Level Democratic Playing Field
NEWARK – Wednesday evening the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders adopted a resolution calling on Congress to stop the unprecedented flow of special interest money into elections. The Freeholders urged Congress to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which allowed unlimited corporate spending in elections. The resolution was introduced by Freeholder Brendan W. Gill (District 5) and championed by NJPIRG and the New Jersey for the Overturn of Citizens United coalition. The motion passed unanimously.
“Citizens United handed million-dollar megaphones to special interests, allowing them to drown out the voices of ordinary voters,” said Peter Skopec, Program Associate at NJPIRG. “Democracy does not mean that the size of an individual’s wallet should determine the volume of his or her voice. We applaud Freeholder Gill and the Board for taking this important step to stop the flood of Big Money into our elections.”
The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission lifted campaign finance restrictions and allowed unlimited corporate spending to influence elections, candidate selection and policy decisions, and to sway votes. As a result, outside spending groups like Super PACs spent more than $1 billion in the 2012 elections – more than triple the amount of outside spending in the 2008 races.
“I’m glad we got this resolution passed in Essex County, and I hope that our state and federal counterparts take serious, substantive strides to remove the money from our political system,” said Gill. “Campaign finance reform isn’t just about presidential campaigns; right here in New Jersey, people are concerned about lucrative government contracts that go to politically connected firms.”
Katie Park, a freshman and NJPIRG Student Campaign Coordinator at Rutgers Newark, delivered more than 500 petition signatures from Essex residents to the Freeholders in support of Gill’s resolution. “We’re taught that the principle of ‘one person, one vote’ is essential to the success of American democracy,” said Park. “But Citizens United has heightened political inequality and empowered special interests. Is this the message we want to send to young, first-time voters – that their vote doesn’t count because they don’t have billions in the bank?”
NJPIRG’s recent Billion-Dollar Democracy report found that it took just 32 top donors to Super PACs to match every dollar given by 3.7 million small donors to the Obama and Romney campaigns combined. Equally alarming: Over 99% of non-candidate, non-party spending in New Jersey’s 2012 Congressional races came from out-of-state groups – mostly Super PACs.
Essex County joins a growing nationwide grassroots effort of more than 500 cities, towns and counties across the United States calling for a constitutional amendment to level the democratic playing field. Eleven state legislatures, including New Jersey, have already urged Congress to overturn Citizens United and pass better campaign finance rules.
NJPIRG, the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization that takes on powerful interests on behalf of its members, working to win concrete results for our health and well-being. www.njpirg.org
 Bowie, Blair, and Adam Lioz, Billion-Dollar Democracy: The Unprecedented Role of Money in the 2012 Elections, NJPRIG Law & Policy Center and Dēmos, January 2013, http://njpirg.org/reports/njp/billion-dollar-democracy.
 NJPIRG Law & Policy Center and PFAW Foundation, Outside Spending, Outsized Influence: Big and Secret Money in New Jersey in the 2012 Elections, January 2013, http://njpirg.org/reports/njp/outside-spending-outsized-influence.