Campaign Finance Law and the First AmendmentFew issues in recent times have more graphically shown how far the needs of the public diverge from the needs of the political class than the Supreme Court decision that came down this week in the Citizens United case, where it was decided that the first amendment means what it plainly says.
Without arguing the merits of the case, I would look to the actions and words of our political class in their objection to the ruling. It is clear that their concern is not any worry that too much money will be spent in future electoral campaigns - far from it. They have been on a juggernaut in recent decades to raise and spend ever more money, pretending to create legal restrictions to campaign contributions when in reality they have built loopholes into the law that are bigger than the original hole. (It has finally gotten to the point where Obama spent just short of a billion dollars getting himself elected, and nobody has figured out exactly how much soft money has actually been spent.
And look at who is complaining the loudest about special interest money in politics. The party of special interests and billionaires. Gates and Buffet, General Electric and General Motors, Unions and trial lawyers, all give their political cash almost exclusively to democrats. So excuse me if I am skeptical about their complaints over allowing these entities the legal ability to spend more. They fear the voices of those who have felt frozen out of the process, or at least inhibited in their spending. This decision frees the spending of the smallest voices, not the largest.
No, their main objection is who controls the money being spent on their campaigns. Elected officials have engineered provisions in election law that allow unlimited soft money, hard cash contributed by 527 organizations and other types of groups have been created that allow for ever more corporate (and other) cash. Endless daisy chains of political committees funnel money into the hands of campaigns. Think Political Action Committees, campaign committees, like DNC, DSCC, DCCC, Emily's List, and many others.
The new law as ir stands now is that these same entities which have been allowed to put money under the control of the campaigns, can now spend an unlimited amount of money under their own control. That is the only change wrought by the Citizens United decision. The restriction against "issue oriented" ads near the time of elections has been lifted. Books and websites can now be advertised right up to election day.
If I can get away from all the hyperventilating about the fall of democracy or some equally dire consequence of this decision, I wonder if it is really true that the new reality will result in even more money coming into the process. It appears that it is more likely to result in the same amount, or perhaps a little more. It is not obvious to me that corporations have been forced to hold back and are straining at the bit to spend more. In either event, more money or not, the net result seems sure to be that a larger percentage of the aggregate pool of campaign cash will be independently spent, by corporations and unions and other groups and types of combinations of people, speaking truth to power and making their concerns known, taking their argument directly to We the People.
If that's the way it works out, the biggest change from the status quo ante would be a diminution of the power of incumbency. New candidates with little or no party involvement, or perhaps a candidate who unsuccessfully sought the nomination of a party, will have easier access to promotion of his candidacy and ideas. However this works out, I feel that it shows the wisdom of the founders of our nation, who wrote the rulebook they way they did. The first amendment says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.That is a beautiful statement. Incumbents, particularly democrats, find anathema in those words. Remember that the Citizens United case was about nothing more sinister than a producer of a documentary who wanted to run ads for it, and candidate Clinton felt that even that was going too far. Her side in the appeal told The Supremes that their restriction applied, even to books, yard signs, bumper stickers, and pamphlets. That was a reach too far for this Supreme Court, and as a result we have more of our constitution in effect, the way it was meant when it was written and ratified by the Thirteen Colonies. Hopefully this is a harbinger of things to come, and a reinvigoration of the intent of the founders.