Dana Milbank
Dana Milbank
Opinion Writer

Liberal superheroes don’t exactly have super PACs shaking in their boots

Meanwhile, back at the Hall of Justice, the Super Friends were hatching their plan to save democracy from the super PACs.

Seventeen of these liberal superheroes — all key figures on the professional left — took the stage at the Service Employees International Union headquarters on Monday to announce that their organizations — MoveOn.org, Public Citizen, Occupy Wall Street, Common Cause, Americans United for Change and other usual suspects — are banding together to fight the flood of unlimited corporate money into politics.

Dana Milbank

Dana Milbank writes a regular column on politics.

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Citizens United ruling: Feeding the Super PAC beast

Citizens United ruling: Feeding the Super PAC beast

They flexed their mighty jaw muscles.

“You will be found out! You will be held to account! And you, not our democracy, you will pay the price!” Public Citizen’s Robert Weissman warned the evil perpetrators.

Added Kate Coyne-McCoy of a liberal money-in-politics group: “I say to corporate America today: We’re everywhere and we’re watching! You’ve been served.”

Master of Ceremonies Bill de Blasio, a New York City public advocate, boasted about the combined might of his unified progressives. “There is a lot of firepower here,” he claimed.

I’d like to think that the Super Friends are correct and that the super PACs have indeed met their match. But I’m sorry to say that my money, so to speak, is on the Legion of Doom.

The inaugural news conference on Monday morning showed that the liberals have yet to agree on a plan for fighting the secret money. They haven’t resolved which entities to target, how they will target them, or what, exactly, they will do to discover the secret donors’ identities. As for their organization, they don’t even have a Web site. “That level of sophistication we have not yet reached,” De Blasio acknowledged.

What they are doing is offering a $25,000 “reward” to the first person to document that a public company has made secret donations to a super PAC. That about sums up the odds: Tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in secret contributions, and a few thousand dollars to fight back.

Even the best-run effort to counteract the super PACs would probably fail. The Supreme Court essentially guaranteed this in its Citizens United ruling. The 2010 decision and interpretations of it since have encouraged the flow of secret and unlimited money into our already cash-saturated politics in a way that couldn’t have happened legally in the past.

The Super Friends were well aware that their effort was token. “We need systemic solutions,” Weissman granted. “We need a constitutional amendment,” he added, or “robust disclosure systems, not the ad hoc thing we’re talking about.” But that’s not happening now. “In the absence of that, what are we going to do?”

The answer, apparently, is that they are going to attempt a lot of bluster and bravado.

“We the people will not stand idly by while the nation’s corporations use their massive wealth to buy our democracy,” announced Bob Edgar of Common Cause.

Aaron Black of Occupy Wall Street proclaimed: “We’re not going to allow our elections to be sold to the highest bidder.” Wearing a sweatshirt and a Detroit Tigers baseball cap, he added: “We’re like a hornet’s nest that got whacked: scattered everywhere and ready to swarm.”

A reporter asked how the Super Friends would go after the large individual donors to the super PACs. Edgar said the effort is mostly one of observing and monitoring. It’s “a shot across the corporate bow, simply saying to them, ‘We’re watching,’ ” he explained. And what about corporations that indirectly contribute money to politics by giving to, say, the Chamber of Commerce? “We’re going to be watching that as well.”

But watching won’t do much to change super PAC behavior. That might require something more forceful, such as a boycott. “That is very much on the table,” De Blasio said when I asked about boycotts. He later explained that the Koch brothers, who are major donors to conservative causes, “do have direct consumer relationships — Omni hotels, for example.”

So does he recommend people avoid Omni hotels?

“We haven’t made that decision yet,” he said.

Sorry, but indecision isn’t going to defeat the Legion of Doom.

For previous Washington Sketch columns, go to postopinions.com.

 
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