The Golden Issue: Campaign Finance

Ken AshfordCampaign Finance Reform, Constitution, Democrats, Election 2010, Polls, Republicans, Supreme Court1 Comment

If the Democrats were smart, they will take this issue and own it.  The issue: the recent Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, where the Supremes ruled 5-4 that corporations have the same rights as individuals when it comes to political speech and can therefore use their profits to support or oppose individual candidates. The decision appears to open the door to unlimited spending by corporations, trade groups and unions in the weeks leading up to an election, which has been explicitly banned for decades.

Obama has spoken out against it.  But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) among other Republican lawmakers have praised the ruling as a victory for free speech.  They have stated that they intend to oppose any legislation designed to gut the impact of the court's decision.

Why is this issue a good one for Democrats?  Because a huge number of people — of all political stripes — oppose the Supreme Court decision:

Our latest ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that 80 percent of Americans likewise oppose the ruling, including 65 percent who “strongly” oppose it, an unusually high intensity of sentiment.

Seventy-two percent, moreover, support the idea of a legislative workaround to try to reinstate the limits the court lifted.

The bipartisan nature of these views is striking in these largely partisan times. The court’s ruling is opposed, respectively, by 76, 81 and 85 percent of Republicans, independents and Democrats; and by 73, 85 and 86 percent of conservatives, moderates and liberals. Majorities in all these groups, ranging from 58 to 73 percent, not only oppose the ruling but feel strongly about it.

Even among people who agree at least somewhat with the Tea Party movement, which advocates less government regulation, 73 percent oppose the high court’s rejection of this particular law. Among the subset who agree strongly with the Tea Party’s positions on the issues – 14 percent of all adults – fewer but still most, 56 percent, oppose the high court in this case.

So here you have an issue where Democratic lawmakers are clearly on the side of the vast majority of Americans (including Tea Partiers!), and Republican lawmakers are staunchly opposed.  This is a great opportunity for Democrats to expose themselves as the real populists, and to expose Republicans as beholden to their corporate overlords.

By the way, for those who are wondering why I disagree with the court's ruling, I'll state it briefly.  I'm for free speech.  I believe in it, and the Constitution guarantees it.  But the Constitution and the Bill of Rights was not written for corporations and unions.  Pfizer, Inc is not an entity endowed by God with certain inalienable rights — I am, you are, but not Pfizer, or Exxon, or Bank of America, etc.

The Supreme Court lost sight of who the Bill of Rights was meant to protect.  Can the CEO of Pfizer contribute his own money to a candidate's campaign?  Certainly, as an American citizen protected by the First Amendment, he has that right.  But can he (and the rest of the Pfizer board) take corporate money (which, technically, belongs to the shareholders) and "speak" in such a manner?  No, in my view.  That's actually engaging in "compelled speech", the antithesis of free speech.

Most people instinctively recognize this.  And that's why Democrats need to put this issue front and center.

UPDATE:  Then again, this line of attack against the GOP is getting a lot of traction: