Saturday, February 11, 2012

Every Dollar Is Created Equal?

So the CPAC panel of conservative attorneys seems to think:
Anonymous political speech. Foreign money in U.S. elections. The proliferation of super PACs. How grave a threat do any of things pose to American democracy? Not much, according to a panel of conservative attorneys, who gathered Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.
The high-profile legal minds on the CPAC panel largely agreed that the changes to the campaign finance landscape are grounds for celebration.
Thanks to the Citizens United decision, we've seen "more voices, more competition, and more accountability," said panelist Benjamin Barr, a senior fellow at the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank.
"Without, the Republican nomination would have been sewed up weeks ago," added Brad Smith, the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission who co-founded the Center for Competitive Politics, a nonprofit that promotes First Amendment political rights. "And in 2010, we would have had fewer competitive races."
In the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money from their treasuries on ads and other activities to influence the election or defeat of federal candidates so long as they are not coordinating with the candidates' campaigns.
A few months later, in v. Federal Election Commission, used the Supreme Court's reasoning and decided that limits on individual contributions to groups that make independent expenditures are unconstitutional.
These rulings gave rise to the creation of what are called super PACs — political organizations that can receive unlimited corporate, union and individual contributions and make unlimited expenditures to advocate for the election or defeat federal candidates.

What the Citizens United ruling did was great for the political rights of corporations and unions. But those two institutions are not created equal. The Republicans are successfully strangling unions to death in this country and the laws about unionization are already draconian. Corporations, on the other hand, run this country already.

The outcome of the Citizens United ruling is to make each dollar equal in the political process. Those who have most dollars can determine who runs and on what platform. In extreme cases one person could bankroll a candidate, as seems to have happened with Newt Gingrich.

Anyone who cares about democracy should see why this is undesirable. But what is more undesirable is the difficulty a candidate would find in receiving funding if his or her platform does not cosset those rich corporations. Getting the money from thousands and thousands of twenty dollar contributions takes time and effort and can only be done by one or few candidates at a time. Finding one corporation to bankroll you takes little time. Provided, of course, that you are willing to play the corporation's tune.