Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Supreme Failure

The Head Shake
Barack Obama’s 2010 State of the Union speech provided a moment for political junkies that amounted to the equivalent of bare-knuckle boxing. That moment came when the President condemned the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, stating, "Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests - including foreign corporations - to spend without limit in our elections." Associate Justice Samuel Alito was clearly visible mouthing the words "not true" and shaking his head while Obama criticized the Supreme Court’s ruling.

The controversial 5-4 ruling held that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections should not be limited because it would violate the first amendment (I happen to disagree with this “interpretation” of the constitution by our illustrious Supreme Court). Now remember that this criticism was coming from the man who had just raised the most money in the history of political campaigns. (Over $750 million for his 2008 presidential bid in case you’re wondering). It would appear that this fundraising juggernaut was not a fluke. President Obama’s campaign committee has defied a sluggish economic recovery and announced today that it raised more than $86 million dollars during the second quarter of 2011. By contrast, the aggregate amount raised by all of his would be Republican contenders totals a mere $34 million (not including Michelle Bachmann who has yet to release her final fundraising numbers for 2011).
Follow the money
So, why is the guy who has raised the most money in the history of campaigns lecturing the Supreme Court about campaign finance? Because of where the money is coming from. Now don’t get me wrong. Republicans are not the only ones who take special interest and corporate money. President Obama and Democrats take special interest money from insurance companies, banks, oil companies, and multi-national corporations too. But what is significant about 'Obama the fundraiser' is the amount he has raised from the small grassroots donations. Of that $86 million Obama has raised this election cycle the average amount donated per donor is $69. Something tells me that $69 donations are not coming from corporations or oil companies. Call me crazy, I know! This matters because the money coming from the American people can be tracked and held accountable. But there is currently no mechanism to track or hold accountable the corporate funding into campaigns via the political action committees (PACs) that the Citizens United ruling now allows.
Secret Campaign Funding Arms Race
Many Democrats besides president Obama were also initially very vocal in their criticism of the court's ruling. But that criticism has slowly become more and more quiet. I now fear that the post-Citizens United political era has Republicans and Democrats alike scrambling to form Political Action Committees designed to funnel money into their campaign coffers in a new and frightening way. This case ruling has opened the floodgates of corporate money into politics in an unprecedented way, as if it wasn’t already bad enough. This raises a very interesting question that the Obama campaign must ask itself. Has the Citizens United Case changed the way the political right will spend money during campaigns? Perhaps the huge advantage that the Obama team has amassed is all an illusion. If the money on the Republican side is making its way to the general election via these new PACs it literally won’t “show up” in any campaign coffers of any candidates, nor will any voters know where the money paying for television, radio, and print political advertisements is coming from.
So what is an incumbent Democratic president like Obama to do? Continue to criticize the Citizens United case while PACs like Priorities USA have pledged to raise “unlimited amounts of money” for his re-election bid? Should he do whatever he can to reject these funds even while his Republican adversaries use similar funds to outspend him and essentially negate the millions of small donations he receives from the American People? Sadly, what will end up happening is that every candidate from each party will remain eerily silent about these new PACs and this new unlimited funding source for their campaigns. The American political system that is already beholden to special interests will continue to be bought be corporate America and now, international corporations too. The government will become even more unresponsive to the needs of the people for which it is supposed to serve. And the sad part is, most of us won’t even notice.
Supreme Failure
This is precisely why the Supreme Court must be free of political ideologues who are also beholden to corporate and special interests. The Supreme Court, being the only branch of federal government that does not raise election funds, was our last and only line of defense against the endless mountain of corporate cash begging to course its way through the veins of our political system. Now that the Supreme Court has loaded the syringe, nobody (including the President) will be immune to its intoxicating effects. The Citizens United case amounts to one of the biggest failures in the history of the United States Supreme Court. And I fear that now, their is now turning back. Super PACs and corporate money are here to stay.

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