Thursday, November 15, 2012

LIBERAL PARANOIA AND THE CITIZENS UNITED DECISION: 10 Myths My Fellow Liberals Believe about Election Spending

Despite the paranoia of my fellow liberals, the sky is not falling because of the Citizens United decision.
For two years now, I have been arguing with my fellow liberals about the Supreme Court’s well-known (shall I say notorious?) 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which permitted corporations, unions, and other organizations to spend unlimited amounts of money on election advocacy. I support the Supreme Court’s decision. Yes, you read that right. I am a liberal (some would call me a flaming liberal), and I support the Supreme Court’s decision in what I shall hereafter call, for brevity’s sake, simply Citizens United.

Let me put it as baldly as I can: I believe casino magnate Sheldon Adelson should be permitted to give $53 million of his own money or his company’s money (as he did) to whatever PACs or other organizations he wants in order to help get Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney or anyone else elected. I believe the oil-rich Koch brothers should be able to give many millions of their companies’ dollars (as they did) to whatever organizations they want that are dedicated to defeating Democratic candidates. I believe the coal companies and banks should be able to spend whatever they want (as they did) to produce ads that support candidates they like and oppose candidates they don’t like.

My reasoning is simple: Unfettered political speech is important. In a democracy, it is indispensable.  Any restrictions on the ability of an individual or a corporation or a union or any other entity to express its political opinions is a restriction on political speech. Restricting political speech is wrong, per se, in a democracy.

Sheldon Adelson, conservative
George Soros, liberal
In this I am simply being consistent: When I support the right of the conservative Sheldon Adelson to support his candidates as he wishes, I am also protecting the right of the liberal George Soros to do the same. And when I support the right of Exxon to make a political ad, I am also protecting the right of the Sierra Club to do the same. If I were to deny the right of those on one side of the political spectrum, I would of necessity deny that same right to those on the other. To do that would be to strangle the voice out of our democracy.

I am not the only liberal who believes the Citizens United decision was correct. So does the ACLU, the most important defender of civil liberties in the country, and an organization vilified in some quarters as too liberal. The AFL-CIO, no friend of conservative causes, also submitted a brief to the Supreme Court that supported its final decision in the case. Michael Kinsley is just one liberal columnist to come out in support of the decision. I agree with the ACLU, the AFL-CIO, and Kinsley: Citizens United was properly decided. Post-Citizens United, democracy is still safe and as thriving as ever.

We have just finished the first presidential election since Citizens United was decided. I now ask my liberal friends: What harm did the Citizens United decision cause in this election? The answer is clear: No harm whatsoever.

To feel and exhibit fear when no fear is justified is a sign of paranoia. When it comes to Citizens United, many of my fellow liberals have simply been paranoid, imagining the sky to be falling when it is still holding up the sun just fine.

I do understand the reasons many of my fellow liberals opposed the Citizens United decision. Those reasons were myths to begin with, and the recent election has proven them to be myths. Here are some of the myths that too many of my fellow liberals believe about the Citizens United decision:

Romney (above) and Obama (below) ended up spending about the same amount of money in the campaign.
Myth #1: Citizen United will let rich people and corporations drown out the voices of ordinary people. This is simply untrue, as the recent presidential election showed. President Obama and Mitt Romney each raised about $1 billion to fund their campaigns (including both direct contributions and contributions to PACs and other organizations that supported them).  President Obama’s campaign raised twice as much from those giving under $200 as Romney’s raised from those giving more than $2,000. In other words, Obama’s money came from “ordinary people”; Romney’s came from richer people; Obama’s “ordinary people” gave more to the campaign directly than Romney’s rich people. The President’s campaign took in far more than Romney’s; Romney’s PACs took in far more than the President’s; in the end, the money given to advocate for each candidate balanced out almost perfectly evenly at about $1 billion. And in the end, both campaigns saturated the airwaves with their ads. The voices of both candidates came through loud and clear. Conclusion: The rich did not drown out us ordinary folk in either dollars or decibels.

Myth #2: Citizens United will let rich people and corporations give all they want to candidates’ campaigns, making candidates obliged to them. The rich, in effect, get to bribe the candidates. This claim, too, is untrue, and it is probably the most common misconception among those who oppose the Citizens United decision. Before Citizen United, there were strict regulations on how much an individual may give directly to a candidate’s campaign. After Citizen’s United, those regulations remain exactly the same. Today, an individual may give no more than $2,500 directly to a campaign. Corporations may give nothing directly to a campaign. (Few liberals I’ve argued with even know that.) Unions may give nothing directly to a campaign. There are similar limits on what individuals and organizations can give to state or national party committees. Although I generally believe in the freedom of individuals or groups to spend their money to express their political opinions, I support these limits on direct contributions to candidates and their campaigns. Why? Because giving directly to a candidate or his campaign can be tantamount to bribery. But if I create my own ad, with my own (or my corporation’s or my union’s) money, the candidate receives no direct wealth. That is not a bribe. It is simply my (or my organization’s) expression of my political opinion. Citizens United did not let anyone give more money to candidates. It simply let people create their own political ads, commercials, books, movies or whatever. (For those who didn’t follow the case closely, it involved a movie made by a group called Citizens United. The movie vilified Hillary Clinton. The decision  allowed the movie to be shown.)

Myth #3: Citizens United will give Republicans, the party of the rich, an advantage in elections. This year’s election certainly gives the lie to that myth, doesn’t it? The presidential candidate supported by rich Republicans like Adelson, the Kochs, Donald Trump, et al., lost. Nearly all the Senate candidates supported by those rich Republicans lost. (Adelson and his wife spent $42 million to support eight Republican Senate candidates; they all lost.) Most Republican representatives already in the House won, but so did most Democratic incumbents; the Dems actually picked up seats in both the House and the Senate. The gerrymandering done by the Republicans in the states after 2010 had far more to do with Republican victories in the House than Citizens United. Nothing in Citizens United would have affected that gerrymandering.

If Citizens United had been decided otherwise, both Stephen Colbert (top)