If Congressman John Yarmuth's proposed Constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision "panders" to anyone, as my colleague Thomas McAdam says it "obviously" does, it is to a stupendously vast, bipartisan, overwhelming majority of the American public.
Polls show overwhelming, bipartisan support for Constitutional amendment
- A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken shortly after the Citizens United decision showed that 76% of Republicans, 81% of Independents, and 85% of Democrats opposed the Supreme Court's Citizen United decision1 allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money, anonymously, to influence federal elections.
- A poll conducted by Hart Research Associates earlier this year showed 79% of respondents favoring a Constitutional amendment to overturn the decision.2
- In one of the few instances where voter support for overturning the Citizen's United decision has been put to an actual, formal, vote test, 75% of Missoula, Montana voters voted in support, this November, of a referendum condemning the Citizens United decision and calling on Congress to pass and send to the states for ratification, a Constitutional amendment overturning the decision.
- A February 2010 Survey USA poll showed that 75% of Americans think corporations should be required to get shareholder approval before spending money on elections.3 Interestingly, this poll showed Republicans and conservatives favoring such requirements even more than Democrats and liberals.
- Zogby International has found that 77% of business leaders support limits on anonymous corporate campaign spending.4
Outside, anonymous campaign spending has skyrocketed
The full magnitude of the impact of the Citizens United decision won't be fully known until after the 2012 election because this will be the first presidential election cycle in which corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money, anonymously, to influence elections. But comparing the outside money (outside, meaning, not from the candidates' campaigns or the party committees) spent in the 2010 midterm election to that spent in the 2002 and 2006 midterm elections gives a good idea of where we are headed. Keep in mind that the Supreme Court overturned the campaign finance laws in January 2010 and it took some time for corporations to make decisions, allocate resources, and set up the front groups that facilitate their anonymity.
Source: Center for Responsive Politics
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 43.8% of the $305 million spent by outside groups was anonymous. It was untraceable. In 2002 only 5.2% was untraceable and in 2006, a minute 1.3% was untraceable. Doing the math, the increase in anonymous campaign spending increased from $895 thousand in 2006 to $133.5 million in 2010.
Corporate influence is bad. Anonymous corporate influence is catastrophic
The impact of anonymous corporate money on our elections is all the more dangerous because anonymity completely removes the need for any degree of connection between the issues corporations want to influence and the content of the advertising they buy. It's one thing to have British Petroleum run ads telling people how environmentally friendly they are. It's a similar thing to have British Petroleum run ads campaigning against a member of Congress because they supported making BP pay to clean up their mess in the Gulf. But it would be a completely different thing to have British Petroleum run ads against that same member of Congress attacking them for supporting gay marriage, an issue that has nothing to do with BP's legitimate business interests, but might be more effective politically. And yet, once money is anonymous, there is nothing to stop them from doing this.
Unlimited, anonymous spending is not just a problem for Democrats
The top four organizations that funneled outside money into political campaigns in 2010 are all on the far right of the political spectrum and, among them, they spent nearly $98 million. But the next three largest outside organizations were all unions, who spent a total of $39 million. After that, the eighth and ninth largest outside organizations were conservative ones, again, and those two spent an additional $19 million to influence elections.
In 2010, almost all of the anonymous money went through conservative organizations. Three of the top four outside spenders (all conservative) were structured in a way that did not require them to disclose many of their contributors. But while the lopsided spending and anonymity may have given liberals something to complain about in 2010, that dynamic is set to change for 2012.
Priorities USA is an organization created by former Obama aides that hopes to raise $120 million in unlimited, sometimes anonymous, donations to use to support President Obama's re-election bid, as well as the candidacies of other Democrats. Former Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wi), a long-time advocate for limiting the influence of money in politics, has warned Democrats that they are opening Pandora's box by engaging in these schemes, but Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), who chairs the Democratic National Committee has made it clear that Democrats are not about to unilaterally disarm, as they essentially did in 2010.5
All together, it is likely that outside, often anonymous, political spending may top $500 million in 2012. While it will lopsidedly support Republicans, Democrats won't be left wanting.
The Bigger Question: Why propose another amendment rather than supporting an existing proposal?
The bigger question regarding Rep. Yarmuth's amendment has less to do with whose votes he might be trying to get (everyone's, it would seem!) by seeking to overturn the despised Citizen's United decision, and more to do with why he feels that the best way to do this is to put yet another amendment on the table.
It is universally accepted that the only way to reign in corporate involvement in our political process, at this point, is via an amendment to the Constitution that clarifies for the Supreme Court that First Amendment protections given to individual citizens shall specifically not accrue to corporations seeking to influence election outcomes. But there are already many amendments on the table that seek to do that.
- Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) proposed an amendment in September that would make Congress's authority to regulate campaign spending explicit.
- Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) proposed an amendment in July that basically does the same thing.
- An amendment clarifying Congress's authority to regulate campaign spending and nullifying an earlier Supreme Court decision equating money and speech was introduced this November in the Senate by Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), with Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Dick Durbin(D-IL), Chuck Schumer(D-NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) signing on as co-sponsors. An identical amendment was also introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Betty Sutton (D-OH), with Reps. Jim McDermott (D-WA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) co-sponsoring.
- Also in November, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) introduced an amendment in the House that would clarify that corporations are not afforded the same rights as people.
- Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), also in November, introduced the OCCUPIED (Outlawing Corporate Cash Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy) amendment, which was subsequently introduced in the Senate by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). This amendment goes further than most. It clarifies that for-profit businesses are not people, makes Congress' authority to regulate campaign spending explicit, prohibits businesses and organizations serving business interests from making campaign contributions or spending money on campaigns, and specifies that Congress may require political contributions to be disclosed.
And those are just the amendments that have been formally introduced. A great deal of public support has also been garnered for amendment language put forward by Move to Amend, Public Citizen, and other organizations working to save American citizens from totally losing their voice in American government.
One has to wonder what strategic considerations went into the decision to propose a new amendment rather than work to bring all these powerful people and organizations together around a single amendment that they can all work toward together. None of them seem so radically different as to lead one to believe that the various sponsors and organizations couldn't be brought together.
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