Friday, January 22, 2010

The Democrats' phony outrage on the Citizens United ruling

I am quite amused by all the democrats who rushed to microphones to criticize and bemoan the Supreme Court's ruling yesterday saying that corporations and unions can advertise in political campaigns without limits in the days before elections. The Court struck a blow for the importance of free speech in politics, something that was of utmost concern to the Founding Fathers. Of all speech, political speech should be the most protected.

But Democrats are not all protesting that there will be so much more money in politics. Notice that they haven't been complaining about all the money there already is in politics that helped elect Barack Obama and huge majorities in both houses last year. We just saw the most spending ever in a political campaign in 2008. Obviously, none of the political so-called fixes for money in politics have done much at all to limit money in politics. First, after the 1974 law we saw an explosive growth in PAC spending to get around the limits in the law. Then after the 2002 law, we've seen a parallel growth in independent groups spending money. The only entity that Democrats want to limit are businesses. This in a time when government is doing more every year to regulate and control business. Shouldn't they have a voice in elections for the people who will be legislating those regulations? Of course, they had a voice before. They could give money to groups with anodyne names composed of various abstract nouns combining words like citizens, independence, liberty, freedom, etc. in some combination to air ads. Now, after this decision, they can spend money on ads that will have to identify the corporation or union by name. And people can decide for themselves if they want to take Exxon's or SEIU's word for how to vote in an election.

Over half the states have laws allowing corporations to air ads in state races and we haven't seen all the sorts of apocalyptic corruption in those states as the Democrats and pro-reformers are alleging will happen now that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of freedom of speech.

The Democrats don't seem to be concerned about how unions can now air ads, only corporations. And analysts were ready to claim that this will mean more money for Republicans because supposedly corporations will spend money to help elect Republicans. From the screaming from the Democrats, that would seem to be their concern. I wouldn't be so sure that there is a partisan advantage for the Republicans here.

Check out this list from of the spending by top industries in the 2010 cycle so far divided by which party they're donating to. They're overwhelmingly donating to Democrats. That is because incumbents tend to receive more money than challengers and the Democrats have large majorities in both houses. Industries don't want to tick off either party and so they play to both sides. Corporations are responsible to their shareholders and will need to take that into account as they advertise. Their shareholders come from both parties. And think of all the lobbyists and groups who have been giving to the Democrats in this health care debate. So don't start screeching about all the money will go to Republicans.

Labor, on the other hand, gives almost 100% of their money to Democrats. And now they can advertise more.

What is also terribly amusing was all the Democrats, including President Obama, coming out yesterday to say that they will immediately work on passing a law to limit the Supreme Court's ruling. Hello? The Court just ruled that limitations on corporate and union spending are unconstitutional limits on the freedom of speech. So how are they going to craft a law that would do what the Court just ruled unconstitutional? This is just vain posturing. The only thing they could do, as Lyle Denniston writes, is institute some sort of public spending for congressional races. Do we really have money in the budget to pay for elections? Having just seen the leader of the Democratic Party win election in 2008 by foregoing public money, how many candidates do you think would follow Barack Obama's example and turn down public money? And how would such a plan even control outside spending?

The cries for new legislation are just vain posturing. Ignore it and be happy that the Supreme Court has, with the replacement of Sandra Day O'Connor by Sam Alito, recognized the primacy of free speech.