Citizens United

It’s about time: There is an alliance emerging between the Right and the Left to defeat cronyism and end corporate welfare

 The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State

There many, many things on which Occupiers and Tea Partiers or progressives and libertarians disagree, but Ralph Nader says that there is an alliance forming between the left and the right against corporate welfare and crony capitalism.

Nader, a four-time presidential candidate, recently spoke at the Cato Institute about his most recent book, Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State. He chatted with Caleb Brown about the premise of his book on the Cato Daily Podcast and, perhaps unintentionally, turned into a discussion about campaign finance law.

“Corporate power without government power would have to adhere to market disciplines,” said Nader. “With government power, they can overcome market disciplines. Wall Street damaging Main Street. Big Business damaging small business.”

“I’ve often said that half of what Washington does is an accounts receivable, shoveling out goodies on the backs of taxpayers to business interests,” he continued. “I think even good programs excrete waste. It’s the nature of bureaucracy. It’s, by the way, corporate bureaucracy as well as government bureaucracy.”

“It’s the law!” is not actually an adequate defense of a law

The moment the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate to purchase health insurance under Obamacare, the primary defense of the law became “It’s the law!” Since talk began of a budget impasse over defunding this particular law, that refrain has become ubiquitous. There’s just one problem: It’s a tautology that doesn’t actually make an argument.

Every law began as a bill that was “passed by Congress, signed by the President, and approved by the Supreme Court.” Laws, once written into code, do not become inviolably permanent. Even such duly-enacted laws can be repealed or defunded by Congress (with the President’s permission or by overriding his veto). Democrats in 2007 tried to defund the Iraq war, even though it was legally authorized by Congress, i.e. “the law”.

Surprisingly (except not at all), Democrats aren’t consistent sticklers for maintaining the status quo of the law in all cases. I will list a few examples, though it should be self-evident that the “progressive” party would be generally in favor of changing the law over time.

Leftist hypocrisy on free speech and government surveillance

One truth about politics: when those who have taken up one side of an issue are forced to accept and defend that same issue, should it suit their needs to do so, the acknowledgement of their previous criticism will be generally non-existent.

Take the histrionics surrounding 2010’s Citizens United decision — “Corporations aren’t people! They shouldn’t have First Amendment rights! Elections will be bought and sold by evil dark money special interest groups! Those with the most cash will always win!”

Forgetting for a moment that Barack Obama managed to get re-elected despite the impressive amount of money that was raised to support Mitt Romney via super PACs that were not associated with his actual campaign, this idea that corporations — really just groups of people — shouldn’t retain First Amendment speech rights is proving quite the interesting conundrum for those who both HATED the Citizens United decision but now find themselves DESPISING that National Security Agency’s (NSA) peek under the hood at millions of lines of metadata on American citizens’ phone records.

Because corporations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Google are taking the uncomfortable action of invoking their First Amendment speech rights to file suit, in the case of the former, and in requesting the release of records showing exactly how persistent the government was in insisting that the search giant provide them private information on American citizens.

Michael Turk wrote a terrific blog post detailing a similarly terrific piece on the ACLU v. Clapper case by Wendy Kaminer at The Atlantic at his blog, Kung Fu Quip:

Citizens United and SOPA/PIPA

You know, letting corporations donate to political campaigns and have free speech rights will destroy the country. Giving corporations the right to speech, like us, is a monumental threat to democracy. They would make us all beholden to the 1%. They would buy campaigns, transform this country into a plutocracy or, worse yet, a full blown corporatocracy. Who knows what terrible things they could do to our country. Why, with their money and resources, they would be able to warp and corrupt public opinion, and turn them against the government. They might even lead a campaign to stop online censorship!

I find it somewhat amusing that the progressives who railed against Citizens United so furiously are now finding themselves the beneficiaries of that decision. Citizens United allowed corporations and such organizations as unions to spend money on political campaigns, though they could not be donated to political parties or candidates, and had to be spent separately. What else was the SOPA Strike Wednesday but a political campaign, with Hollywood on one end trying to use the political system to do away with due process in order to reap more profits, and tech companies and grassroots citizen-activists on the other trying to prevent such a mockery of law? I’m not a legal expert, but it would appear to me that if Citizens United hadn’t been decided the way it were, and the McCain-Feingold Act was still in place, this campaign might not have gotten off the ground, or if it did, it might not have been as wildly successful as it was.

The Principled Politics of the AFL-CIO: An Open Letter to Richard Trumka

Dear Sir:

Compare your statement of January 21, 2010 (emphasis mine):


Today, the Supreme Court further tilted the playing field in favor of business corporations in public elections.  By allowing unlimited corporate treasury expenditures that explicitly support or oppose particular candidates, the Court has increased the already excessive influence that corporations exert in our electoral system.  And we believe the Court wrongly treated corporate expenditures the same as union expenditures, contrary to the arguments we made in our brief in this case.  Unions, unlike businesses, are democratically-controlled, nonprofit membership organizations representing working men and women across the country, and their independent speech should accordingly be given greater protection.

The AFL-CIO supports a system of campaign finance regulation that promotes democratic participation in elections by individuals and their associations; protects legitimate independent speech rights; offers public financing to candidates while firmly regulating contributions to them; and guarantees effective disclosure of who is paying for what.


with this story in POLITICO today, August 22, 2011 (emphasis mine):


The AFL-CIO is getting ready to pump even more money into elections by forming a super PAC and targeting developments in the states, the Associated Press reported Monday.

Can ObamaCare Survive the Constitutional Challenge

Last week a severe blow was dealt to the long-term prospects of ObamaCare. U.S. District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson ruled that the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision (commonly referred to as the “individual mandate”) is unconstitutional. ObamaCare required weeks of arm-twisting and bribes, along with a labyrinthine process of obscure parliamentary procedures, to get the bill passed without a final vote. Even then it required Nancy Pelosi keeping her caucus in Washington (and away from the growing number of voters back home vehemently and vocally opposed to the bill) until nearly midnight on Christmas Eve in order to get the bill to pass by a hair.

There are a number of constitutional issues with the health care “reform” legislation, but none may be more important to implementing it than maintaining the individual mandate. There is no doubt that this is not the end of the issue. The Obama administration will appeal the ruling and eventually it will end up in the Supreme Court. However, that may not be a hospitable venue for the arguments that Obama will make before the court to protect this provision.

Citizens United Decision and Free Speech

The Supreme Court issued a significant ruling this week on the subject of campaign financing. It is a complex subject and the opinions authored by the Court illustrate this complexity checking in at 183 pages (read here if you dare). I have read most of them and will offer my thoughts.

In the 2008 election cycle, a group called Citizens United produced a film called Hillary: The Movie which was apparently quite an unfavorable depiction of the Presidential hopeful. Citizens United intended to distribute the film as an on-demand pay-per-view on DirecTV. The commercials which supported the film were deemed an “electioneering communication” by the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia and the film was not shown. Citizen United is a non-profit 501(c)4 corporation which has special non-profit status in that, unlike standard non-profit 501(c)3 charitable corporations, they can participate in the political process via lobbying and and campaigns. If this sounds complicated already, then welcome to the world of campaign finance in the United States.

Podcast: Scott Brown, SCOTUS, Citizens United, Air America, “Birther” Bill, Guests: Eric von Haessler & Mike Hassinger

Jason and Brett were joined by Eric Von Haessler and Mike Hassinger this week, returning to the “normal” format after two consecutive shows that were a little out of the ordinary.

Their discussion covered:

Oh, in case you forgot, House Democrats really hate the First Amendment

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Democrats will introduce a constitutional amendment today designed overturn recent Supreme Court decisions by repealing political speech protections in the First Amendment:

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will introduce the House’s version of legislation that would overturn decisions like Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC — court cases that helped create modern-day super PACs and stripped rules limiting aggregate limits on donations.

The amendment would give Congress and the states the power to regulate campaign financing, fundraising and spending, including money spent by independent expenditures.

The proposed constitutional amendment sounds a little different from the one proposed by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and backed by most Democratic senators. The original text of the upper chamber’s version, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, would give Congress the power to regulate political speech.

The intended effect of both amendments, however, is to undermine political speech. Because, in Orwellian American, gutting a civil liberty protected by the Bill of Rights is what passes for an election year issue. Or something.

Today in Liberty: Obama’s lackluster response to VA scandal, House to vote on a severely weakened USA Freedom Act

“The government was set to protect man from criminals — and the Constitution was written to protect man from the government.” — Ayn Rand

— VA scandal isn’t going away: President Barack Obama finally spoke about the problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, but didn’t do much other than continue to express outrage on the reports of the fraudulent wait times and mismanagement at VA hospitals. He’s standing behind VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, at least for now, as Democrats join Republicans calling for his dismissal. Unlike the IRS scandal and Benghazi, the problems at the VA and the deaths of 40 veterans aren’t something that the White House can blame on partisanship and try to sweep under the rug. The outrage is bipartisan, and only growing louder. And perhaps the most concerning thing about the sordid mess is that President Obama and the White House treats it as though it’s an unproven allegation.

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