Corporate corruption, PAC money really isn’t helping presidential politics
I wonder if any of the Supreme Court justices who voted with the majority in the Citizens United case are troubled after seeing what once illegal money is already doing to the 2012 presidential election.
“With a stroke of the pen, five justices wiped out a century of American history devoted to preventing corporate corruption of our democracy,” was reformer Fred Wertheimer’s assessment of the decision. Could perhaps one or two of the justices now think critics like Wertheimer may have had a point?
The majority ruled the First Amendment protects the political speech of not only citizens, but also associations of citizens like corporations and labor unions. It said, in a way, that corporations are people.
President Obama called the ruling “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and other powerful interests” that would “drown out the voices of everyday Americans.” John McCain, his 2008 Republican opponent, predicted, “There’s going to be a backlash when you see the amounts of union and corporation money that’s going to go into political campaigns.”
The 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Kennedy, Scalia and Thomas in the majority, allows corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts on campaigns and bundle these contributions into political action committees that do the candidates’ dirty work.
The PACs cheerfully take responsibility for their often vicious negative ads while their candidates are free to run positive messages, with the pious admission that “I’m So-and-so and I approve this message.”
What we have seen thus far in the current primary season is just the beginning and hopefully, also the beginning of the backlash predicted by McCain.
It started with front runner Mitt Romney and a pro-Romney PAC known as Restore Our Future, not to be confused with the pro-Newt Gingrich PAC, Winning Our Future.
Stirring names signifying nothing like the two Futures are the rule for these PACs. We also have Citizens for a Working America, once aligned with Michelle Bachmann, that has switched to Romney. Then there are Rick Santorum’s Red, White and Blue Fund, Jon Huntsman’s Our Destiny and Rick Perry’s Make Us Great Again, not to mention Obama’s Priorities USA, which, of course, has no connection with the candidacy of Barack Obama, just as the others have no connection with the Republican candidates.
It’s so dishonest — and corrupt.
Restore Our Future struck the first blow with negative commercials produced by well-financed, former Romney staff members. In these spots that ran continuously, Gingrich was portrayed as a greedy, corrupt lobbyist and Washington insider “with more baggage than the airlines.”
At the same time, Romney was running loving commercials about Romney, the citizen politician, business genius, family man and savior of the Olympics.
When Gingrich questioned the accuracy and morality of the negative ads and called on Romney to renounce them, Romney was able to claim he had no control over them.
Then Gingrich produced a casino mogul willing to spend millions on the Winning Our Future PAC and produce negative ads portraying Romney as an unscrupulous, job destroying business devourer and closet moderate who would do or say anything to get elected.
When Romney’s people implored Gingrich to get his supporter to cease and desist before he destroyed the Republican Party’s alliance with capitalism, guess what Gingrich said? He had no control over what the PAC was doing but didn’t object to it “counterbalancing Romney’s millionaires.”
But then, when the Washington Post found many inaccuracies in an attack ad against Romney, Gingrich said he would ask the PAC to fix the ad or withdraw it. In doing so, he admitted candidates might just have some control over these “independent” supporters.
Meanwhile, thanks to these Citizen United-induced millions, Gingrich and Perry have been able to extend their campaigns into South Carolina and perhaps beyond, despite their poor showing in the first two states. Huntsman stepped out, but could have pressed on.
In a way, it’s pleasantly ironic that the first victims of the conservative Supreme Court’s majority turn out to be conservative candidates for the presidency, especially Mitt (“corporations are people”) Romney. But a few months from now, most of us — liberals, conservatives, middle-of-the-roaders — won’t be all that pleased about the way the race for president is being run.
Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.