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Monday, 13 February 2012 19:45

CPAC Celebrates Citizens United

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The Citizens United ruling has enabled the formation of Super PACs, which have pooled the money from mainly anonymous corporate (and union) and mega-wealthy donors, and flooded the media markets before every election since early 2010. Media analysts tell us that these ads are mostly negative. Really? The effect on me has been totally negative, though surely there were at least a few positive and uplifting messages.

Citizens United does include some restrictions, including a prohibition on coordinating corporate (and union) expenditures with a candidate’s campaign. The ruling does however permit candidates to raise funds for the Super PACs that support them, and the Super PACs are generally staffed and even led by former campaign staffers. This may be what passes for a sense of humor in the supreme court.

The CPAC panelists found much to celebrate in Citizens United. Said one panelist, “Thanks to the Citizens United decision, we've seen "more voices, more competition, and more accountability.”  Panelists see nothing negative about foreign financial influence over our elections (no restrictions apply as to who can contribute to the Super PACs, including even foreign corporations (and of course, unions, though they may have omitted that mention). Some panelists voiced concern that “the left” may try to limit contributions by government contractors, because apparently contractors are lacking in sufficient influence over the government today.


Panelists predicted that future changes to campaign finance legislation will continue to be driven by the courts, rather than through legislation, and that the impetus will be toward further relaxation of rules, eventually permitting corporations (and unions) to contribute directly to candidates, eliminating that burdensome wink and nod that is now required to circumvent the non-coordination rules.

CPAC is a very conservative organization, and the conservatives have more ready access to corporate (in this case, not union) treasuries. But we shouldn’t think that wealthy conservatives are the only supporters of privately financed election campaigns. If Democrats had the complete control of both houses of Congress, the White House, and all state legislatures, they would not eliminate the private financing system. The halls of government would still be peopled by the winners under this system. Like their CPAC counterparts, these Democrats would be heavily influenced by their corporate (and union) donors to maintain the status quo rather than face the kind of competition that would result from a more democratic system.

Americans need to figure out how to rid ourselves of private campaign financing, because it so distorts our government policy and blocks too many Americans from having any influence at all over political outcomes. But only the very innocent can believe that our elected officials will make the change for us. They are handicapped by their complete reliance on their corporate (and union) donors, and will not help us.

This change will have to start from the grass roots and become a general movement. When it gains enough strength, then perhaps it will enlist politicians to lead it who can see a path to success that doesn’t depend on corporate (and union) contributions. A number of organizations are working on the change, including MoveToAmend, Rootstrikers, and Occupy Wall Street,  along with the older organizations that have long promoted public campaign finance, including Publicampaign, Democracy Matters, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters. Where this will all go is uncertain, but it clearly has a long, long way to go before we eliminate our elected officials’ complete dependence on corporate (and union) money. Unfortunately, until we make the change, nothing much in government is going to change for the better. 

Last modified on Thursday, 16 February 2012 15:31

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