I doubt even Justice Anthony Kennedy could have imagined how splendidly things would have turned out when he crafted his tightly reasoned decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Without the money from casino magnates and private-equity managers, just think of how many voices, how many opinions, how many great ideas would never have reached the voters in the Republican presidential primary.
Thanks to Kennedy and his colleagues, the 1 percent has funneled tens of millions of dollars to the new campaign “super PACs,” those independent groups run by former campaign aides that are prohibited from “coordinating” their efforts with the official campaigns (wink, wink). Already, super-PAC fundraising and spending has exceeded that of the campaigns. By the time the 2012 election cycle is finished, don’t be surprised if super-PAC spending reaches into the billions.
And why not? The prospect of another four years of Barack Obama in the White House, or a return of Democratic control in Congress, could cost businesses and wealthy investors tens of billions of dollars in additional taxes or foregone profits due to job-killing regulation. Why not spend a couple of billion every election cycle to insure themselves against such catastrophe?
Justice Antonin Scalia said it best when he noted, in an earlier dissent, that the limits on corporate political spending have “muffled the voices that best represent the most significant segments of the economy.” God bless Nino. It’s heart-warming to know that somebody in Washington is willing to stand up for the powerless and the politically dispossessed!
This effort to finally allow corporations a voice in the public square began in 1976 when the high court ruled, in a suit brought by conservative New York Sen. James Buckley, that there is no difference between money and speech, at least as far as the U.S. Constitution is concerned.
Over the years, in a silly and naïve attempt to reduce the influence of money in government and politics, Congress has tried to limit how much job creators and others among the deserving rich could spend or contribute to influence the outcome of elections. But the effect of such laws and regulations has only been to create ever more ingenious vehicles to get around them.
Now, with Citizens United, the Supreme Court has finally declared that “enough is enough.” The court didn’t just remove the limits to what wealthy individuals or corporations could contribute to independent (wink-wink) front groups. The five-member majority also invited constitutional challenges to limits on direct contributions to campaigns or political parties and to those silly requirements that the source of every contribution be disclosed in a timely manner.