Mike Kueber's Blog

March 26, 2014

Citizens United and Americans for Prosperity

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 6:53 pm
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When liberals wrung their hands over Citizens United (i.e., the Supreme Court free-speech decision that allows private groups to spend unlimited amounts of money trying to influence American politics), I initially pooh-poohed their concern in my blog, but later came to agree that this is an ominous development.  A recent article in the NY Times this week further reveals the danger of Citizens United.

The article reports on the Koch brothers’ favorite super-PAC, Americans for Prosperity. This PAC is dominating all other PACs in spending and is becoming super-sophisticated in manipulating the thinking of American voters.

On one hand, the manipulation is scary, but on the other hand it reminds me of when I was growing up there was a great concern that American consumers would soon be under the spell of Madison Avenue manipulators. (See Vance Packard’s “The Hidden Persuaders.”)

We survived Madison Avenue (I think), and maybe we will find a way to survive the Americans for Prosperity.

February 22, 2011

Money in politics in Wisconsin

A Koch Industries lobbyist in Wisconsin has described the state’s current brouhaha as, “a dispute between public-sector unions and democratically elected officials over how best to serve the public interest.”  I agree, but a lot of liberal pundits don’t.  They see this as an assault by conservative outside interests, including a public-interest group called Americans for Prosperity, to kill public-employee unions countrywide.

According to an article in the NYTimes, Americans for Prosperity is heavily funded by the secretive conservative owners of Kansas-based Koch Industries, David and Charles Koch, although the association has 70,000 other contributors.    Koch Industries also was one of the biggest contributors to the campaign of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker.

The growing prominence of conservative public-interest groups is well documented.  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, seven of the top ten spenders in the most recent election were conservative and only three were liberal.  Ironically, all three of the liberal groups were public-employee unions – Service Employees International Union ($16), American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees ($13m), and National Education Association ($9m).  However, Americans for Prosperity did not make the top ten, even though the Times article indicated the group had spent $40 million in 2010.  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the seven biggest-spending conservative groups were the US Chamber of Commerce ($33m), American Action Network ($26m), American Crossroads ($21m), Crossroads Grassroots Political Strategies ($17m), American Future Fund ($10), Americans for Job Security ($9m), and Club for Growth ($8m).

Most pundits correctly blame the U.S. Supreme Court for this monetary deluge.  In 2010, the Court in Citizens United v. FEC held that the McCain-Feingold law limiting “electioneering communications” by associations, unions or corporations was an unconstitutional infringement of free speech. 

Liberals are incensed about the 5-4 holding because so much of the new money deluge is coming from associations of conservatives like the Koch brothers.  Citizens United will probably become for liberals what Roe v. Wade is for conservatives – i.e., something of a litmus test for all Supreme Court nominees – with hopes of an eventual reversal. 

When I campaigned for Congress, I was asked about Citizens United and I indicated that I supported it.  It makes perfect sense that political speech by rich people should be constitutionally protected, so why make a distinction for corporations.  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.