The Aftermath of Citizens United
Chances are you have seen a campaign ad during this Republican primary season. If you have not, there is no doubting that you have turned on the news and heard much about the amount of money flowing into the campaign, much of it going to fuel the negative attack ads; but this is the world we now live in due to the 2010 Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United. This decision set the precedent that corporations can be classified as people, and therefore are subject to the rights granted in the First Amendment of free speech. This ruling made many implications, and is certainly a head scratcher. As political comedian Stephen Colbert points out with reference to Mitt Romney’s time at Bain capital, if corporations are people, they can technically be murdered, making Romney a serial killer. However, the most serious implication allows corporations and unions to make unlimited campaign donations from their general treasury, just as citizens can do. However, under campaign finance rule the maximum donation any one entity can give is a mere $2,500. The way around this technicality is known as the super-PAC (political action committee). Under the super-PAC limitless amounts of money can be spent in the name of a candidate, as long as the candidate has no affiliation with the PAC. This of course is humorous to many of us who study politics; imagining a political action committee that has no correspondence or cooperation with the candidate is almost like imagining a president running for re-election sending bills to the Congress without a re-election agenda. Colbert, mocking this system in an attempt to illustrate how ridiculous this is, re-named his super PAC the “Definitely Not Coordinating with Stephen Colbert Super PAC” after announcing he had set up an exploratory committee to look into the possibility of a Presidential Bid, and handing over his super PAC to fellow political comedian Jon Stewart. Amusing as this is, it provides a useful ploy to candidate: millions of dollars can be spent on negative attack ads while the candidate technically keeps their hands clean. The end result of all this is elections being hijacked by money. In the 2010 election season–the first following Citizens United–campaign spending is up as much as 400% from the previous intermediate elections in 2006.
The Republican primary elections have been a hot topic in the wake of all this spending. In fact, it seems every candidate has a donor willing to write 10 figure checks left and right. Foster Friess, the now famous political donor who joked about birth control being an aspirin between the knees, has given over a million dollars to Rick Santorum, along with William Dore, making a total of two million dollars from two men. This pales in comparison to Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire single handedly responsible for funding the Newt Gingrich campaign. Adelson has given at least $10 million, and his wife has given an additional $11 million, keeping the Gingrich campaign afloat. Recently, he even made headlines by musing that he might give another $100 million to Gingrich. Money in politics has been an important discussion in recent years, and that has only intensified with the 99% protests across the nation. Those organizing and protesting huge corporations have plenty of fuel to their fire inside, especially when one considers that the most profitable return on investment in this nation is now lobbying. Innovation, efficiency, advertising, and product development are now less profitable for a company than sending a representative to Capitol Hill and using attractive incentives to persuade representatives of both Congressional houses that it is in their best interest (not necessarily our collective best interests) to do as the company wishes. The obvious exchange for this is help in campaign financing. Google for example, who just appointed former Congress woman Susan Molinari their top lobbyist, was the fourth largest donor to Barak Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. This was before the era of super PACs and Citizens United, and tough Google itself was not responsible for much of the donations, it leaves many people feeling that politicians are now in the pockets of corporations or large donors. Because of the amount of money given to a candidate people believe that once elected the candidate feels an obligation to help that company when lobbied; or worse, the company hangs the donations over the head of the representative, threatening to withdraw support if the representative does not comply. To the rest of us in the United States that act is known as extortion, but a candidate knows that if their funding dries up, so do their chances of re-election. Of course this belief is merely speculation, and there is little evidence that this takes place as often as some people assert that it does.
However, knowing that the number one return on investment is lobbying gives enough support to that theory as to make it credible. Another stabbing piece of evidence is found in ear marking bills, also known as pork barrel spending. This Congressional tactic is the practice of tagging spending caveats to bills in their final stages, so that when a bill passes a specific amount of tax payer dollars is given to a company, state, union, charity, or another organization as part of the law when it passes. Despite public resentment of these ear marks, and many representatives claiming an attempt to clean it up, pork barrel spending has only grown, year after year. Is it a coincidence that earmark requests total $130 billion in an election year–just after the Citizens United decision–larger than the last two fiscal years combined? You be the judge; however, it does seemingly leave Congress caught with their hand in taxpaying cookie jar. One can be forgiven for believing that much of the money from these earmarks ends up in places requested by the large political donors. So, if elected, would a President Gingrich owe his election to a Sheldon Adelson? If this is the case, how much of the dignified seat of an elected official is being stained by the demands of big money contributors? Are they serving us, their constituents; or are they serving the interests of those who fund them?
The terrifying possibilities of the answers to these questions have made many, including the very Supreme Court justices who created the possibilities that came with Citizens United, question whether or not Citizens United needs to be repealed. Many have argued that money is not speech, and therefore, Citizens United should not be law and corporations and unions should not be able to donate to super PACs under protection of the First Amendment. This argument has little logic. The Supreme Court has traditionally upheld expression to qualify as speech; it is difficult to argue campaign contributions are not a form of expression. Moreover, when pornography was making its way through the courts, those in favor of this form of expression used the freedom of speech argument, saying that those participating are expressing themselves, and that is their form of speech. Money is no more speech than sex is, but both are certainly expression, and if one is protected under the First Amendment, the other must be as well. Montana is leading the state in the cause of undoing the Citizens United decision. A state law on the books for decades in Montana rules that entities such as corporations cannot contribute to influence local and state elections; this is being used as a case against Citizens United. Though expected to fail, it sets the precedent of challenging the ruling.
Many believe the only way to overturn the decision is to amend the Constitution. This is easier said than done, requiring a two thirds vote in both houses of Congress, plus a ratification of the amendment from three quarters of the states. Despite the difficulty, this is exactly what Louisville, KY Congressman John Yarmuth has proposed to do. His proposed amendment not only makes super PACs unconstitutional, but mandates all campaigns be publically financed. This would ensure individuals, such as Adelson, would be barred from giving millions as well (individuals were not affected by the Citizens United decision, it only pertained to corporations and unions; yet the subsequent formation of super PACs has made large individual donations possible). Publicly financed campaigns would certainly make elections fair, and ensure they are about the issues, which is the type of election best for America; however, with a $15 trillion deficit is it wise to use tax payer money to finance elections? Surely the campaign money would not be a significant amount compared to our deficit, but with such a large deficit, expenses need to be cut, not added.
Citizens United has changed the political landscape of our nation; it must be allowed because the Constitution guarantees free speech, and without a Constitutional amendment corporations should be allowed to do with their money as they please; however, with it standing, every election may become more and more negative, as this primary has. Moreover, we may never have a chance to make an unbiased decision based solely on the issues as long as Citizens United stands.
26 February, 2011
Posted on February 27, 2012, in Constitutional Law, Patriotslog Articles, Politics and tagged bain capital, Barak Obama, campaign financing, Citizens United, corrupt politicians, Foster Friess, John Yarmuth, lobbyists, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, political action committee, Republican primary, Rick Santorum, Sheldon Adelson, stephen colbert, super PAC, supreme court decision. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.