Sunday, April 29, 2012

Citizens United's worst impact will be where you can't see it

I've been meaning to write for months that Citizens United will primarily harm democracy below the radar, but Ezra Klein's gone and done it for me:

....even at the end of the [congressional election] campaign, many potential voters will know very little about their congressional candidates. They will be susceptible to ads telling them terrible things. Some of those candidates won’t have the resources to fight back.
No one knows that better than the candidates themselves. Both incumbents and potential challengers realize that a deep-pocketed PAC could decide their race. So when they get a call from that PAC’s director urging them to support this or that, they’re that much likelier to listen. The result, then, isn’t just that moneyed interests can throw congressional elections. It’s that they wield more influence after the election — and they can exercise that power without spending a dollar.

Read the whole thing as they say.  I think state level elections are even more subject to this - don't expect the US Chamber of Commerce to have overlooked that.

Unlimited money from the people who have unlimited money, to make sure the system's rigged to allow them still more unlimited money.  Thanks, US Supreme Court.

UPDATE:  best we can do now is disclosure, although that might also be under threat.  For my fellow Californians, there's the California Disclose Act that would help a great deal if it passes.  Best of luck if you live in a Red state, you'll need it.


amoeba said...

An honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens.
Thomas Jefferson

J Bowers said...

Here's an interesting development.

FEC Disclosure Loophole Closes On Secret Donors As Court Won't Stay Ruling

The usual pattern seems to be that when a light is shone under the rock, the critters supporting it often run for the hills (Heartland, ALEC). A large business's marketed image counts for much more, as a rule, unless it's coal mining. If nothing else, it could add yet another tier of administrative headache and drain on resources for the front groups, but would still require transparency in their political advertising.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

J. Bowers,
Interesting. Sunlight is the only weapon we have. However, perhaps if we go over the public records with a magnifying glass and press for ever more disclosure, we can prevail. We need to remember that we can use the combination of sunlight and a magnifying glass to roast their corporate tuckuses.

Coal, defense, oil and chemical industries have no good reputation left to lose--so one hopes that merely associating them with an effort will kill it.

In the end, though, I fear that the only way to prevail is through a more educated and smarter electroate. That takes us out of the realm of politics and into the realm of social work, charity and outreach.

As government does less, there will be needs unmet. The greedheads will not meet them with charity, and the people who are helped may be receptive to a political narrative--especially if it is true.

Anonymous said...

Here's a U. S. Senate race in Nevada to watch:
Senator John Ensign resigned in 2011 after a sex scandal, and Republican Congressman Dean Heller was named to replace him, thus enabling Heller to run as an incumbent. Heller's Democratic challenger is Congresswoman Shelly Berkley.
As it happens, Nevada is the home of Sheldon Adelson, right-wing multibillionaire
casino king who hates Shelly Berkley.
Berkley, a lawyer, used to work for Adelson, but the two had a falling out over Berkley's support for unions. (Adelson hates unions also.)

Oddly enough, Adelson and Berkley agree about what is the #1 issue for both, Israel. Berkley got her start in politics as an intern for AIPAC, and has taken more money from the Israel Lobby than anybody else in the House. She sits on the House International Relations Committee, which is the committee that votes for foreign aid.
For his part, Adelson is a huge donor to the ZOA because AIPAC is not extreme enough for him. Adelson funded Birthright, a program that gives a free propaganda tour of Israel to young American Jews.

The local media in Nevada is saying that Adelson may give as much as $100 M this season, and the propaganda onslaught will start soon. Right now the Berkley/Heller race very close. In the past, Adelson's support has often gone to losing candidates. But this time, Adelson's unlimited spending may sink Berkley.

-Nevada Observer

Anna Haynes said...

Read Lawrence Lessig's "Republic, Lost"; or The Way Forward. He makes the pt about the PAC not needing to spend a penny to exert influence.

One problem I'm having though is in what solution to work toward. The momentum for fixing it seems (locally at least) to be via Move To Amend, whose slogan-platform is "corps are not people and money is not speech" - yet Lessig and Geoffrey Stone (in HuffPo) say that the "money is not speech" part is very unwise. This makes sense to me, but the opinionosphere context is painfully missing: AFAIK nobody else has chimed in for or against this (have they?). And Move To Amend hasn't addressed their criticisms.

So what do you do when those you respect hold a view that those with the momentum don't deign to address?
(if in fact they still haven't done so)

And where can I go to find the whole "how to attain effective political-finance reform" solution-space hashed out, by those who're knowledgeable in this area?

Anna Haynes said...

Also - Lessig makes the point that the money-in-politics systemic corruption is a threat multiplier (that makes fixing other problems, including climate change, much more difficult); just as climate change is a threat multiplier.

(Or rather, as he puts it, it's a "root" that strengthens a multitude of "branch" problems.)

So he - like McKibben - says go ahead and work on your cause, but don't make the mistake of ONLY working on that; save some cycles for working on the root.

Also - will we ever know who funneled the half-million through the Adam Smith Foundation into the (unsuccessful) effort to roll back Calif's AB32?

Jeffrey Davis said...

Money winnows candidates well before we get to know them. From the initial meet-and-greets for state offices, money anoints candidates who will then be treated seriously in the press etc. If you're not pliable to the needs of money, you won't get it when you need it, and you'll never advance further than some minor office. Like city council or mayor of some small town.

David B. Benson said...

Yes. Well on our way to some version of an oligarchy.

If we are not already there.

Brian said...

Hi Anna, reading Move to Amend's proposal:

I can see a few problems - it imposes mandates as well as permitting regulations. Better than status quo though.

Any fix that simply reverted the law to pre-Citizen's United, or affirmed the minority in CU, isn't problematic. I'd have to study the issue to see how much further I'd go.

J Bowers said...

Climate change dispute erupts with Aspen telling U.S. Chamber of Commerce to take a hike

"Aspen's leaders initially said they would continue paying the $800 in annual dues because they considered it a good value in return for the services the national chamber provides. But with the chairlifts idle and Aspen's streets clear of tourists after a warm winter brought the ski season to an early close, business leaders had more time to ponder the meaning of their membership.
The local chamber's recap continued: “Aspen’s economy is inextricably tied to the future of the global climate and all area entities have deeply embraced the idea of reducing our carbon footprint. With our resignation from the U.S. Chamber, the ACRA shows its solidarity with this position.”"

cynthia said...

Citizens United is just the tip of the iceberg of the massive corruption of the American political and economic system. The members of Congress are totally dedicated only to helping the one percent and enriching themselves in the process by an elaborate system of legalized corruption. They have made it all but impossible for an incumbent in the house to lose unless they are challenged from within their own party and both Congressmen and Senators can hide their newly stolen wealth by having their spouses get appointed to the boards of the corporations they pass legislation for. Before and after each bill passes the lobbyists masquerading as Congressional staffers fix the bill to please those who have paid for it by campaign donations. Elections for President are basically auctions where candidates representing both corrupt parties sell themselves to the highest corporate bidders with a promise to pay them back after they are elected. In short, this is by far the most corrupt system in the western world.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

"by far the most corrupt system in the western world?"

Really, Cynthia? Really?

Been to Italy? How about Brazil? Argentina? Guatemala? Mexico?

Corrupt our system is, but the most corrupt, I think not. The corruption doesn't start 'til much higher up the food chain--for instance, you can get a policeman to take a report of a robbery without bribing him. You really need to get out more.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Jay Cadbury, phd.

without people, there can be no corporations. Additionally, there is nothing preventing an employee from leaving a company if they do no like their employer's political contributions.

There's that pesky free will again Eli loathes so much. Of course its just all well and fine for the unions to shower the democrats in cash.

This blog should be called Donnie's Double Standard.

a_ray_in _dilbert_space said...

Jaybird: "Additionally, there is nothing preventing an employee from leaving a company if they do no like their employer's political contributions."

Unless maybe he or she has a family to support or bills to pay or a life to live. Good lord, Man, what are you, like 9 years old?

J Bowers said...

"without people, there can be no corporations. "

Without people, there can be no Socialist Party, therefore, the Socialist Party is a real person?

Anonymous said...

Dr. Jay Cadbury, phd.

"Unless maybe he or she has a family to support or bills to pay or a life to live."

right and they have the free will to decide what is more important, as opposed to union dues, which are forced.

what are you, an indoctrinated little snipe that worships at the altar of Maher?

you do make an excellent pinata.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Jay Cadbury, phd.

oh I forgot to send a congradulations to Al Gore for successfully firing Keith Olbermann. Olbermann was a no hack liar who held a deep jealousy for Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'reilly. He will never have their talent and is now reduced to a pathetic 0.

Jeffrey Davis said...

Jay, you do realize that "free will" isn't magic pixie dust? We forbid all kinds of things that people have the "free will" to ignore.

J Bowers said...

"right and they have the free will to decide what is more important, as opposed to union dues, which are forced. "

Any requirement to pay union fees is due to the collective bargaining agreement between your employer and the union. But if such an agreement exists and you are not a member, the union is still obligated to represent you.

Pattern Makers v. NLRB, 473 U.S. 95 (1985): the US Supreme Court held that union members have the right to resign their union membership at any time.

The Supreme Court also ruled that nonmembers are not required to pay union dues in Communication Workers v. Beck, 487 U.S. 735 (1988).

But in the same spirit as, "...there is nothing preventing an employee from leaving a company if they do no like their employer's political contributions...", if you don't like it, you can always move to one of the 23 Right to Work states listed here.

And I'm not Australian.

Anonymous said...


in the union versus employer discussion.

In the Netherlands no one is forced to join an union and only a small gain is given to union members compared to everyone. Basically given the right culture and right laws unions work.

And we have seen in the mid 19th century what free market capitalism gives us. Which is basically labour camps where the lower class have no power, except rebellion.

cynthia said...

A Ray in Dilbert Space,

Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala, and Mexico are merely corrupt on a local scale, while the US is corrupt on a global scale. And because Italy is part of the Western power structure, a very small bit player though it is, it too is mired in corruption on a global scale. This is one of defining features that makes the US and the West a global Empire.

OTOH, Brazil and Argentina are making attempts to defy Empire. You can see this in the way Brazil is siding with Russia and China in the Israel-Iran conflict, which goes against the grain of Western hegemony. And Argentina is making plans to national its oil supply, which is a poke in the eye to American Imperialism.

But Guatemala, Mexico and other countries to the south of us are nothing more than docile and obedient puppets of the US. They do whatever their American masters tell them to do -- even when it's not in their best interest to do so. Unless China makes a deal with them that they can't refuse, Guatemala and Mexico are destined to remain Banana Republics.

And if you think that ordinary Americans -- the 99 percenter, if you will -- have something to gain by being citizens of a global Empire, think again. For instance, we'll soon be witnessing the grinding death of small American businesses and the rise of mega-multinational corporations. Our imperial elites have engineered a biflationary squeeze on margins, which is causing the cost of doing business and all input costs to rise, while causing consumers' incomes and net worth to decline.

If you're in doubt, just check out latest earnings reports. Apple and the 35 largest US multinationals added jobs 3 times faster abroad than at home. And 60% of their revenue now comes from overseas:

cynthia said...

There's nothing wrong with the legal entity that we call the Corporation. The problem lies in the governmental structure of corporations. While the tippy-top of the corporation maintains all of the power, no one is accountable for anything -- at least that's the way things have played out in recent history. A few points:

1. The corporate power structure stifles innovation and creativity of its employees.

2. Accountability doesn't exist.

3. The corporate hierarchy doesn't promote true, good-quality leadership. It promotes profit by any means.

4. The current corporate structure promotes fascism, just as it did in the early 1900s.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

I did not say the US was not corrupt. It is. It simply is nowhere near the most corrupt nation in the Western world.

You would also do well to read up on the history of the corporation. Its whole purpose was to divorce personal responsibility from corporate action.

John said...

Here's an interesting story by journalist Doug Thompson, describing his "sordid past as a Washington power broker."

This is corruption in the USA, but it's perfectly legal.

Anonymous said...


good for you. Move to Argentina and life a wonderful life of mediocrity. Sorry some of us are winners and champions and have more talent than you. I suggest you go back to school, get a degree in gender inequality(which you probably have already), then a write a useless paper about it that nobody will read.