Since its founding in 2015, End Citizens United, a political action committee that is supported through grassroots efforts, has focused its efforts on unseating candidates who are known to be bought and paid for by special interests. As a vociferous and persistent opponent of campaign finance reform, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has been in the organization’s cross hairs since day one. With the 2018 midterm elections looming on the horizon, Ryan threw his party for a loop by announcing his retirement on April 11, 2018. Although he will serve out the rest of his term, the congressman won’t seek reelection in November.
Statement by End Citizens United
End Citizens United, or ECU, didn’t waste any time issuing a press release regarding the senator’s announcement. Later that same day, in fact, the organization issued an official statement about Senator Ryan’s impending retirement. In its release, Tiffany Muller, president of ECU, stated: “As Speaker, Ryan pushed his party to respond to the will of mega-donors and corporations, including an effort to strip health care from tens of millions of Americans and a tax bill that raises taxes on middle class families while giving benefits to the richest Americans.”
Paul Ryan’s Dark Money Track Record
It doesn’t take a lot of sleuthing to figure out why Paul Ryan has been a chief target of ECU since its inception. Ryan started serving as senator for Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District in 1999, and he quickly aligned himself with big money and special interests. In particular, he has allied himself with the Congressional Leadership Fund, or CLF, a Super PAC that has accepted more than $8 million in dark money–including more than $6 million in 2017 alone. Through these alliances, Ryan has placed top priority on keeping big money and special interests happy while throwing his Wisconsin constituents under the bus.
Again and again, Paul Ryan appeared in the news through the years to vocally oppose any and all efforts in support of campaign finance reform. While in office, he championed a bill that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or ACA–a move that would leave countless of his constituents without health insurance. More recently, Ryan worked tirelessly in support of the $50 million tax reform bill. Given that the passage of the bill was a top priority for Republican mega-donors, it makes sense that it was so important to Ryan. More than half of the benefits derived from the bill would go to the top 1 percent while more than 13 million middle-class Americans would see their taxes go up over the next 10 years.
ECU’s Big Money 20
To understand what a pivotal role Paul Ryan has played in the aftermath of the disastrous 2010 Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court decision, it helps to understand why ECU has made getting him out of office a top priority. The organization, which was founded in 2015, maintains a list called the Big Money 20. Paul Ryan has held a spot on the list since its inception, and that says a lot.
For a politician to land on ECU’s Big Money 20 list, they must be an incumbent whose voting record reflects that they work for special interests and not for their constituents. Paul Ryan was a natural choice for the list when it was initially developed because his voting record has long reflected a bias toward big money and against hardworking Americans. Besides, Paul Ryan was a major opponent of enacting a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United vs. FEC, and he has consistently voted against campaign finance reform measures throughout his political career–including the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002.
The Race for Paul Ryan’s Seat
ECU had already been gearing up to try to vote Paul Ryan out of office in the 2018 midterm elections. Randy Bryce, the likely Democratic nominee for the 1st Congressional District seat, had enjoyed support from ECU for some time. Unlike Senator Ryan, Bryce, a former ironworker and U.S. Army veteran, does not accept donations from Super PACs or other dark money sources. Instead, he relies solely on grassroots efforts and an average donation of $25. During the first quarter of 2018, Bryce’s campaign outraised Ryan’s campaign by $1.75 million.
Now that Bryce will no longer be facing the powerful incumbent, he has an even better chance of winning the coveted seat. Winning the seat is just one part of ECU’s overarching effort to turn congress from red to blue during the midterm elections. Although there has been some speculation about who the Republicans will nominate to run for the seat, the filing deadline isn’t until June. As for who will replace Ryan as Speaker of the House, a few names have been floated around lately. They include Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.
Does ECU Have Paul Ryan Running Scared?
The timing of Ryan’s announcement and impending retirement is interesting. Naturally, Republicans claim that the senator sincerely wishes to retire only so that he can be around more for his family, which includes three teenage children. However, it might also be that Ryan is feeling the heat from efforts of groups like End Citizens United and isn’t up for the kind of work that would be needed to retain the seat for another term. Whatever his true motivations may be, there’s no question that his retirement is a positive development for the country.
Even though Paul Ryan is out of the race in November, ECU will continue to support Randy Bryce in his efforts to win the exiting senator’s coveted seat. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the organization seeks to elect candidates who support campaign finance reform generally and the overturning of Citizens United vs. FEC specifically. Bryce may have an easier time running against someone other than Ryan, but he still faces an uphill battle. The district voted for Trump by a margin of 10 percent in 2016, and it is still regarded as leaning more Republican than Democrat.
Campaign Finance Reform in a Post-Paul Ryan World
As exciting as the news of Paul Ryan’s impending retirement may be for supporters of campaign finance reform, it is far from enough to incite real, lasting change. Since the disastrous 2010 Citizens United decision, which famously argued that corporations are people, the very democracy of the United States has been thrown into jeopardy. More than ever, special interests and dark money hold the strings, and congress people are mere puppets doing their bidding. With any luck, Paul Ryan’s former opponent will emerge victorious in November along with many other campaign finance reform champions, and we will be that much closer to overturning Citizens United once and for all.