Jim Wallis, the Man Who Would Be Walter Rauschenbusch, is outraged–OUTRAGED, I SAY!–over the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday that limitations on corporate and union political expenditures are unconstitutional. Of course, Wallis doesn’t so much as mention unions in his screed, but I’ll come back to that in a moment. He begins with a false picture of the present atmosphere, and goes downhill from there:
Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance law will give a huge boost to the special interests that already exercise a stranglehold on our political system, allowing them to tighten their grip and further prevent any meaningful change.
I’ve got the wonder–would those “special interests” include the insurance and pharmaceutical industries that Wallis loves to hate, but which have been pushing the congressional health care reform effort since spring? See, much as people like Wallis and fellow Sojournistas such as Valerie Elverton Dixon would have us believe otherwise, both the House and Senate bills would have been an enormous boon for the very insurance companies they scorn.
Dismissing the practice of the last century and overturning two major precedents,
Just as the Court did in Brown v. Board of Education, to name just one example. Precedent is not holy and sacrosanct, especially to liberals, normally.
the Court ruled 5-4 that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as persons, and that those rights include spending corporate funds to influence elections.
And now unions have those rights, and non-profits (of which the plaintiff in this case was one) as well.
In the past, corporations have been permitted to spend their funds to run “issue” ads in relation to campaigns but those ads could not explicitly support or oppose individual candidates. Yesterday’s ruling threw that precedent out the window. Corporations can now directly intervene in campaigns with candidate-specific ads.
This is correct, and at this point it’s important to note the specifics of the case. The “corporation” in this instance was Citizens United, a non-profit that during the 2008 election made a film entitled Hillary: The Movie in opposition to Sen. Clinton’s presidential candidacy. Citizens United wanted to broadcast the film on cable systems video-on-demand services, and had prepared advertising to let cable subscribers know it was available. In other words, we a have not-for-profit grassroots group engaged in political speech, which is to say exactly the kind of effort that the framers of the First Amendment would have wanted to encourage.
The logical outcome of this decision is that there will be a new torrent of money into the electoral process. Corporations are now free to directly support candidates who support their interests, and oppose those who do not. Big banks can now target seats on the banking committees, insurance companies those on committees dealing with health care issues, and defense contractors the armed services committees.
Imagine changing that second sentence to, “unions are now free to directly support candidates…” But wait, you say, couldn’t unions already do that? Didn’t the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) spend $85 million in 2008 to support candidates that supported their interests? Didn’t the American Federation of State, County, and Munipal Employees Union (AFSCEM) spend $63 million? Indeed they did. They did so by utilizing a variety of loopholes in campaign finance laws. For that matter, so did lots of corporations and business groups. They were all “independent” expenditures, which as Wallis rightly points out is something of a joke, and they may not have mentioned a specific candidate, but then again, they didn’t have to. Now the laws shot-through with loopholes are gone, and groups like Citizens United can actually compete if they choose with SEIU.
Last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, commercial banks spent 37 million dollars on Washington lobbyists to intercede in the democratic process, swaying lawmakers and protecting their narrow interests of bank bailouts and million dollar bonuses.
Which fact is completely irrelevant to the issue at hand, especially considering that there are a lot more lobbyists in Washington than just those from the commercial banks.
Now, they can spend millions more on elections, targeting lawmakers who don’t toe their line. Poor and working Americans will be further marginalized in their nation’s capital.
Aside from the fact that he doesn’t seem to bother to read the newspaper, the reason Wallis can say this is because he thinks people aren’t smart enough to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to political advertising. Money simply doesn’t equal success. If you don’t believe me, ask Martha Coakley, who outspent Scott Brown 5-1 in the Massachusetts Senate election. With that and five bucks she can go to Starbucks.
Here’s where Wallis goes utterly wrong: the answer to speech you don’t like isn’t to shut it down. It’s more speech. The more voices that are heard, including grassroots organizations that don’t have the money to pay expensive lawyers to find loopholes in arcane campaign finance laws, the better.
At a time when financial reform is at the forefront of people’s concerns, giving big banks and corporations a green light to even further influence our political process is an outrage and an assault to democracy.
Jim Wallis: anti-free speecher and angry old man.