Mike Kueber's Blog

December 31, 2011

Citizens United takes effect in Iowa

Earlier this year, I blogged about a recent Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, that authorized corporations and and rich people to spend unlimited amounts of money advocating for a specific candidate, provided that the spending is not formally coordinated with the candidate’s campaign.   The Citizens United decision was based on the constitutional right of free speech.  Although many people, mostly Democrats, expressed grave concern about the decision – President Obama said, “this ruling strikes at our democracy itself.” – I downplayed its significance in my blog:

  • As George Will suggested decades ago – don’t limit the speech, just require full disclosure of who is paying for the speech.  Then let the voters decide.  I realize that many think my view is impractical and Pollyannaish – that American voters aren’t capable of avoiding manipulation by slick marketing – but I believe we can rise to the occasion.

Unfortunately, according to an article in the NY Times, my view is being refuted by the Republican presidential campaigns in Iowa.  The Times article reports that a super-PAC supporting Mitt Romney has blanketed the state with negative ads on Newt Gingrich and the ads are having a devastating effect on Gingrich’s campaign.  Even if my previous suggestion that American voters are “capable of avoiding manipulation by slick marketing” remains true, there remains a fundamental flaw that the super-PACs have an unfair advantage because of their virtually unlimited spending.

The $2,500 limit on individual contributions to presidential campaigns was designed to prevent rich people from being able to buy out-sized influence with campaigns.  Just imagine how much influence a rich person or a corporation can buy with a $1 million contribution to a super-PAC that supports the candidate.

The Times article reports that, while Mitt Romney’s campaign is clearly benefiting from the super-PAC attack ads on Newt Gingrich, Romney is not being tarred as the guy responsible for going negative.  Instead, he can accurately assert that he has no control over the super-PAC spending.  But the article also points out that Romney has been a bit disingenuous in bemoaning the out-sized influence of super-PACs:

  • “In recent days, Mr. Romney has tried to distance himself from the group. ‘We really ought to let campaigns raise the money they need and just get rid of these super PACs,’ Mr. Romney said on MSNBC.  But in July, Mr. Romney appeared before dozens of potential donors to Restore Our Future at an organizational meeting, effectively blessing its work.”

I’m not sure what the answer is.  Typically, I believe that incorrect Supreme Court decisions should be corrected by a constitutional amendment.  But I don’t think the result of Citizens United was incorrect.  If George Soros wants to spend $100 million on TV ads saying what a great president Barack Obama is, I think he should have that right.  Similarly, if the Koch brothers want to spend $100 million on TV ads saying what a horrible president Barack Obama is, they should have that right.

So, until Mitt Romney or someone else comes up with a constitutional way to “just get rid of these super PACs,” I think we are stuck with them.  Rich people will be able to buy more free speech than the rest of us.

2 Comments »

  1. […] have previously expressed similar sentiments about the influence of super-PACS.  In fact, the cover of Time magazine this week read, […]

    Pingback by Fact-checking, negative ads, and super-PACs « Mike Kueber's Blog — August 9, 2012 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

  2. […] times I’ve blogged about Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that removed restrictions on the right of right people to advocate for […]

    Pingback by Living with Citizens United « Mike Kueber's Blog — August 20, 2012 @ 3:59 am | Reply


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