I heard the new populist version of President Obama at a Town Hall meeting in Ohio today. I remember this guy. Looks amazingly similar to a fellow I saw campaigning about a year and half ago. Just might work. He’s a very attractive candidate.
One favor though, Mr. President. Is there any chance you could give these fiery anti-Wall Street speeches sometime after 4pm, ET?
You see, everytime CNBC shows you talking about sticking it to the banks, those crazy guys on the floor of the New York stock exchange put in sell orders. Lots and lots of sell orders. The market has now lost 400 points in two days and it seems to coincide precisely to those moments you’re speaking live on cable TV.
I love you, but you’re killing me, man. My 401K is taking a beating.
Next passionate populist-guy town hall speech- 4:30pm. Please? No, seriously.
Having already written a serious assessment of the Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited corporate spending on political advertising, the claim by some that it will result in the wholesale purchase of lawmakers got me thinking about what it might be like to have one completely in my pocket.
This will never happen, of course, because I don’t make nearly as much money as Exxon, so the chances are next to zero. But one can dream.
For starters, and to make me feel better about myself, I think I would have him introduce legislation that would declare my birthday, October 29th, as National Robert Garcia Appreciation Day. If this passes, the following year I would go for a National Robert Garcia Awareness Month.
I think it might also be nice to have a bridge or a highway named after me. Many of my tax dollars have already gone toward the construction of such infrastructure so I think it’s only right. But why stop there? I would also want one train station and one airport. And they should be ones that I use, so I would have him propose renaming La Guardia and Union Station. I don’t necessarily expect that resolution to pass, but you have to take a strong initial bargaining position. If we end up with a small, municipal airport and perhaps the tiny little BWI train station, I could find this acceptable.
Then I’d have him introduce an amendment to the omnibus spending bill that would contain a provision that would exempt Robert Garcia from all federal income taxes. How cool would it be to actually keep the gross amount you see on your pay stub?
I also want a farm subsidy. Farmers, you know, are often paid to not grow certain crops. Though I am technically not a farmer, it is a well-established fact that I do not grow corn and I’d like to be paid for that. Because this seems such fertile ground (forgive the pun), going forward, I would point out to my Congressman that there are several other agricultural products I also do not grow like wheat and soy beans.
And then there’s the whole area of research. I would be more than happy to initiate studies on certain important topics like the psychological benefits of attending sports events and concerts. Or perhaps, the effects of sunshine on flies which might require travel to places like Hawaii and Puerto Rico. A few federal grants in the research area would go a long way toward improving the relationship between me and my Congressman.
I could go on and I will. But, regrettably, only in my dreams.
It involves a very real principle. But the true winner is the power of money, seen by a 5-4 majority of the court, as a vehicle for political expression worthy of 1st amendment protections.
First off, this helpful guide from the Washington Post:
— A 63-year-old prohibition on corporations using money from their general treasuries to produce and run their own campaign ads.
— A prohibition contained in the McCain-Feingold Act that bars issue-oriented ads paid for by corporations or unions 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election.
— A century-old ban on donations by corporations from their treasuries directly to candidates.
— The requirement that any corporation spending more than $10,000 in a year to produce or air a campaign ad covered by federal restrictions must file a report with the Federal Election Commission, revealing the names and addresses of anyone who contributed $1,000 or more to the ad’s preparation or distribution.
— The requirement that an ad include a disclaimer stating who is responsible for it, if the ad is not authorized by a candidate or political committee.
It’s safe to say, I think, that the conservative majority that overturned a lot of established law in this area took a pretty activist approach. This was not a narrow decision. Considering the general mantra from conservatives about strict interpretation of the law and respect for precedent, this ruling really does seem to turn that premise on its head.
Chief Justice John Roberts, anticipating this argument writes, in essence, that any decision that’s “right” trumps the principle of leaving established law alone. He maintains that if it were taken to its extreme, “…segregation would be legal, minimum wage laws would be unconstitutional and the government could wiretap ordinary criminal suspects without first obtaining warrants.”
Ok, there’s some logic there. But this is not in the same league as segregation and wiretapping. The idea that corporations have the same free speech rights as individuals does not strike me as running to the rescue of the oppressed. But there is a legitimate principle at stake here.
The ACLU and the NRA
The American Civil Liberties Union filed amicus briefs in favor of the winning argument in this case. The ACLU believes that all speech is protected, including speech (specifically, a political documentary that attacked Hillary Clinton) that is funded by corporations. The National Rifle Association takes the same position. I don’t know how often these two organizations agree on anything, but I think it’s rare, and in this case, interesting. There are a lot of constitutional experts who would normally be labeled as “liberal” who applaud the decision because, in their view, free speech trumps all. I’m not sure this is as a “right vs left” issue.
Is it really the end of the world as many are hysterically crying out? Individual corporations have historically not wanted to get specifically and overtly into partisan politics because they’re sensitive about alienating consumers. Their trade associations have no such concerns. And corporations will contribute to those groups so their economic interests will be represented and they will produce lots and lots of ads.
Unions, of course, have also just won the same rights as corporations, so they too, will get to spend what they want on political advertising. I don’t know how this plays out in regard to partisan politics. I’m not convinced every corporate cause is necessarily a Republican or conservative one. Democrats have been known to seek corporate dollars too. In fact, it seems more likely that traditionally progressive labor unions are more predictable in their partisan patterns and favor many of the liberals who are howling the loudest about the Supreme Court ruling.
But I can see that a company that profits with less environmental regulation, like power and oil interests, just might be inclined to spend lots of money on candidates who want to weaken environmental laws. Insurance companies would do the same for candidates who oppose important aspects of health reform law. And the fear is that there will be back-room deals in which candidates will literally sell their positions in exchange for critical advertising dollars from corporations or the trade associations representing them.
A Clouded Conclusion
I think this was a win for free speech, but a technical, possibly Pyrrhic victory. It certainly puts a dent in the notion that a conservative Supreme Court bases its philosophy on strict adherence to settled law. It is likely to come at the cost of ever billions more dollars and their influence infecting the political process.
But then, are we really so naïve as to think money isn’t already a huge factor in politics? A study by the University of Maryland finds that U.S. House candidates spend 34% of their time raising money. It’s the same for the Senate.
In a report from a consortium of interest groups favoring public financing of elections, Former South Carolina Democratic Senator, Fritz Hollings, notes that Congressional recesses have grown exponentially since the 1960’s- specifically so politicians can go out and raise money:
In February it used to be Washington ’s Birthday and one for Lincoln’s. Now we’ve combined them so we can take a week off to raise money. There’s Easter week, Memorial Day week, Fourth of July week and the whole month of August. There’s Columbus Day week, Thanksgiving week and the year-end holidays. While in town, we hold breakfast fundraisers, lunch fundraisers and caucuses to raise funds.”
So now there will be more money for politicians to fight for- on top of the mountains of cash already in the game. The biggest effect of the court ruling may well be increased public cynicism about the integrity of representative government.
Most folks just don’t earn enough money to buy themselves a Congressman. They couldn’t afford it before the court ruling- and they won’t be able to after it.