Citizens United and the rise of the crackpot billionaire
April 3, 2012 1 Comment
Really nice piece by Tim Noah about what Citizens United has actually wrought:
The very rich funders of Republican super PACs, while hardly unanimous in their views (they support opposing candidates, after all), are reliably anti-Meliorist. Their favored causes tend toward things like repealing health care reform, making abortion illegal, restricting access to contraception, blocking climate change legislation, cutting taxes for the 1 percent, and in general halting America’s moral decay—excepting greed or gambling—and its steady march toward socialism. (Simmons and Adelson have both used the “s” word to describe either President Obama or his policies.)
It’s enough to make you nostalgic for an America in thrall to corporate power. Corporations, after all—the publicly held ones, anyway—must answer to their stockholders. Super-rich crankocrats do not…
A corporate takeover of U.S. politics was precisely what many predicted after the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United. But, although the Roberts court recklessly invited corporations to make so-called “independent expenditures” on behalf of individual candidates, most corporations have been reluctant to do so. TheWashington Post reports that less than one-quarter of the money given to super PACs in this election cycle came from corporations, and most of these were private. According to Politico, less than 0.5 percent given to “the most active Super PACs” came from publicly traded corporations.
Instead, it’s rich crackpots who opened the floodgates after a lower-court ruling loosened the rules a bit further. Journalist Brooks Jackson, author of Honest Graft: Big Money and the American Political Process, suggests crankocrats may also have been guided inadvertently to super PACs by the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law’s ban on unlimited “soft-money” contributions to national political parties, which survivedCitizens United. “A lot of these cranks previously funneled their money through the RNC and DNC, … which at least had the sense to know that they needed to win majorities,” Jackson e-mailed me. “Now the crank money flows through independent groups instead.” Applying some Occupy-Wall-Street-style math, CNN’s Charles Riley calculates that for 2011–2012 the 100 biggest individual donors to super PACs make up only 3.7 percent of the contributors but supply more than 80 percent of the cash. [emphasis mine] If you give to a super PAC and don’t own a private jet, paint yourself a sign that reads, “WE ARE THE 96.3 PERCENT!”
It’s truly hard to see how this can possibly be good for democracy. I’ve seen arguments that Sheldon Adelson’s SuperPac funding of Gingrich kept his campaign alive and thus injected more competition in the Republican primary process. Now, I suppose that may be a good thing, but on the other hand, candidates who are entirely incapable of raising money from ordinary voters under the direct contribution limits are probably just not serious candidates, no matter how much one really rich guy loves them. I guess we should be grateful that Newt’s campaign brought us needed dialogue on a moon base? Sure, in a democracy more competition is better but I don’t think the trade-off of basically letting rich people have such massively disproportionate influence is worth it.