The past two weeks have been chock-full of fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, in which the Court overturned a century’s worth of censorship on political speech by corporations. The basis for the case was a documentary produced by Citizens United, a non-profit group dedicated to advocacy of Conservative principles. “Hillary: The Movie,” an unflattering documentary on then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was produced by Citizens United to be offered for on-demand viewing by cable subscribers until the Federal Election Commission barred the film’s release during the 2008 presidential election, citing McCain-Feingold, a 2002 law prohibited unions and corporations from sponsoring ads in favor or in opposition to a candidate for political office.
In an unprecedented move last week, an arrogant Obama chastised the Court’s decision with many Justices seated mere feet away from the President as he gave his State of the Union address. Liberal advocacy and watchdog groups began to spread fear of buying and selling elections, saying that the ruling opened the floodgates to limitless influence by corporations on federal, state and local elections, to which Justice Alito mouthed “not true.” Shortly after, the left was hysterical, dumbfounded that a member of a coequal branch of government would challenge Barack Obama, and compared Alito to Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC). Apparently Barack is not used to criticism, but then again, neither is the Supreme Court used to being criticized at a campaign speech that fronted as a State of the Union address.
Prior to the Court’s ruling, unions and corporations could not contribute directly to campaigns; they could, however, establish political action committees (PACs), which could solicit donations from employees and allies to support political candidates or causes. The ruling still does not allow direct corporate contributions to campaigns, but it does allow corporations and unions to finance their own campaigns (advertisements, literature, etc) independent of the candidate or candidate’s committee, much like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or MoveOn.org, both non-profits, can currently sponsor ads. Shortly after the decision was handed down, Obama made a statement that folks like “big oil”, “big pharma” and “big finance” could now engage in unlimited campaigning. While the media waxed hysterical about political Armageddon, missing from any of their protests was how big labor, a top political ally of the Obama administration, would also benefit from the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. A post on the website of the Atlantic provided perhaps the most accurate analysis of the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, saying,
“[The opinion] basically eliminates a middleman: before today, corporations and unions had to set up PACs (political action committees), filed separately with the IRS, that would receive donations. And they did. Corporations and unions spend millions of dollars on elections. Now, however, the accounting firewall is gone, and Wal-Mart or the Service Employees International Union, for instance, can spend their corporate money directly on candidates.”
Spend they did. According to filings with the FEC and SEIU president Andy Stern, the SEIU alone spent $60.7 million to elect Barack Obama in 2008. Add in the Teamsters, the IBEW, the National Federation of Teachers, the UAW and countless other union branches and who knows exactly how much Big Labor and their PACs funneled to the Obama campaign. The same for big business and finance-the only difference, as the Atlantic so simply put it, is the absence of a PAC, which apparently served as a window dressing for political spending by big business and big labor, when in fact the effort to give an appearance of elections free of spending by moneyed interests was a big money laundering scheme operating under the guise of a PAC.
As with big oil’s payoff during the previous administration, including Halliburton’s no-bid defense contracts, the investment by Big Labor in the Obama administration has paid off handsomely already-the SEIU has already inappropriately lobbied the White House to withhold stimulus funds from California unless they exempted unionized state employees from furloughs and salary reductions put into effect as a result of a massive gap in the state budget. They’ve also been bold in their highly public push to be exempted from the so-called “Cadillac tax” on the most expensive health insurance plans, a deal they brokered behind closed doors at the White House substitute for a conference committee. Add card check legislation into the mix and you have a White House that is of and for Big Labor. Big Labor, Big Oil, Big Business—what’s the difference? At least now the political spending isn’t hidden behind a window dressing known as a PAC-we know who’s running what ads. PAC or no PAC, the Big Boys have been running the show [influencing elections] since the dawn of democracy.
While corporations may choose to take this opportunity to enter the political arena by running ads, they also have a public image and shareholders to answer to and preserve an image with. On the other hand, shareholders may find corporate advocacy necessary on some issues-for instance, shareholders of banks have reason to be weary of a proposed tax on bank assets (deposits), which may only deepen the financial crisis. In any event, prudence will demand that corporations tread carefully in sponsoring their own political ads.