Given that he has held his current position since 1999 and has served as Speaker of the House since 2015, it is safe to say that Paul Ryan, the Republican senator from Wisconsin, has a firm hold on the state’s 1st Congressional District. Still, if the PAC End Citizens United has anything to say about it, his opponent, Randy Bryce, will achieve the unthinkable in 2018. Bryce is going head to head against Ryan for the upcoming midterm election cycle, and it should be interesting to watch. The two couldn’t be more diametrically opposed–especially when it comes to the issue of campaign finance reform.
The endorsement by End Citizens United reflects the fact that Randy Bryce is running on a platform that emphasizes not only campaign finance reform in general but the overturning of Citizens United specifically. While many in the public have at least heard about Citizens United and vaguely know that it was an important decision, most are largely in the dark about just how disastrous this 2010 Supreme Court decision was. End Citizens United, which endorsed Bryce, is a grassroots funded political action committee, or PAC, whose primary goal is the enactment of a constitutional amendment that overturns Citizens United v. FEC. Not surprisingly, Speaker Paul Ryan has been outspokenly opposed to such an amendment.
For many people, this is the first they’ve heard of Randy Bryce. However, in Wisconsin, he is well-known and has a lot of clout. In fact, this won’t be his first crack at an election. The candidate ran three times before–in 2012 for a state assembly seat; in a 2013 primary for the Racine County Board of Education; and in 2014 for a state senate seat. The political director of the Ironworkers Local 8 union is also a veteran of the U.S. military and a cancer survivor.
To truly understand what is at stake for the 2018 midterm elections, it helps to understand how Citizens United came about and what it really involves. First, it doesn’t just refer to the 2010 Supreme Court decision, which was technically known as Citizens United v. FEC. Rather, it refers to the PAC by the same name. Founded in 1988 and overwhelmingly funded and supported by the Koch brothers, Citizens United was established to promote socially conservative causes and candidates as well as, not surprisingly, corporate interests.
During the 2008 election cycle, Citizens United attempted to air television commercials as video-on-demand films that were critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton. However, the PAC was barred from doing because it would violate the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which is typically referred to as the McCain-Feingold Act. This act specifically barred unions and corporations from paying for media that mentions any political candidates by name immediately before an election. However, Citizens United challenged the law by filing a suit against the Federal Election Commission, or FEC, which wound its way through the lower courts before finally arriving on appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Incredibly, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United with a 5-4 vote. The court ruled that the government restriction on independent political spending by corporations and unions was unconstitutional. How did the court arrive at this decision? In part, it ruled that the First Amendment doesn’t just protect individual’s right to freedom of speech. Rather, the court ruled that the First Amendment actually protects free speech itself. As a result, it protects the “speech” of unions and corporations, and such “speech” may be unfairly or unconstitutionally impeded by limits on political spending. Additionally, the court ruled that these spending limits keep information from reaching the public. In reality, however, the move drowns out the voices of smaller players and gives far too much power to corporations.
For his part, Randy Bryce has gone on the record as calling Citizens United “toxic” for the United States. Opponents argue that the First Amendment strictly protects individual freedom of speech not free speech itself. With the Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court opened the doors to unlimited, undisclosed donations by special interests. The move has essentially rigged the system in favor of the very wealthy and of corporations, who actually tend to work hand in hand.
Since assuming his seat in 1999 through a special election, Paul Ryan has been a fierce opponent of campaign finance reform. He has led the fight against the most effective campaign finance reform initiatives, including McCain-Feingold and the DISCLOSE Act. He has also come out strongly against the proposal of a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United and has stated that the Supreme Court made the right decision in 2010. Indeed, Paul Ryan seems to think that corporations should have the same rights as individual citizens, which should raise a red flag for the vast majority of U.S. citizens.
There’s no denying that even with the support of ECU, Randy Bryce faces a major battle. Paul Ryan went into the election cycle with more than $11 million in his campaign coffers, and he has reportedly raised more than $6.3 million more for the 2018 cycle. Meanwhile, Bryce has hit an upswing with his fundraising thanks to the ECU endorsement. In late August, the Bryce campaign announced that it had raised more than $353,000 mostly from small donors. Reportedly, 82 percent of his donations come from small contributions while 15 percent reflect donations of $200 or more.
How will ECU help Bryce in his battle against Paul Ryan and the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision? As of April, ECU had collected more than $4 million in just three months. At that time, the organization reported that it expected to raise at least $35 million before the midterm elections in 2018. In 2016, ECU took in around $25 million, so the organization clearly believes that it has even more clout these days. For the first quarter of 2017, ECU collected donations from more than 100,000 people, and around 40,000 of those were first-time donors.
Clearly, momentum is building in the fight to not only upend Citizens United but to unseat Paul Ryan from his grip on Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District and from his role as Speaker of the House. With only about a year to go until the midterm election of 2018, however, there is still a lot more work to do. It will be interesting to see how End Citizens United’s support helps Randy Bryce. Recently, a survey by Global Strategy Group showed Ryan with a nine-point lead over Bryce. However, 17 percent of respondents were still undecided. It may be early yet, but there is clearly hope for a Bryce victory in 2018.
Click here to learn more about End Citizens United.