Citizens United is a symptom, Amendment 65 an empty gesture
Amendment 65 was passed on Nov. 6 by Colorado voters in a resounding: “Hey please do something to reverse the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision… if you want to.”
Sixty five encourages Colo.’s congressional delegation to create and support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that seeks to limit spending by corporations and unions on political advertisements — but the amendment in no way actually does anything; it’s purely symbolic.
No ballot measure can actually force Colorado’s congressional delegation or state legislature to propose or support anything at all.
This is why I voted against 65; I saw it as extraneous and worried that its broad language might encourage our representatives to implement bills that could restrict citizens’ free speech.
Contrary to typical connotations, Citizens United v. FEC is actually a freedom of speech case, which determined that any organization may expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate.
As an inadvertent result of the ruling, Super PACs were created, enabling unlimited spending by unions, corporations and other organizations on commercials and other electioneering communications without any restraint.
In Richard Haen’s Slate article, “The Numbers Don’t Lie,” he reveals that total outside spending jumped from $1.8 million in the midterm before Citizens United to $15.9 million in the midterm following it in 2010.
Similarly, Opensecrets.org shows that outside spending on the general election increased as well from $37.5 million in 2008 to over $1.3 billion this year.
Outside spending has seen a staggering increase, but I don’t think this massive influx of organizations throwing their money at political elections is necessarily all bad — there’s a huge plus here.
All of that money that would’ve otherwise been hoarded by profit-driven corporations is now being pumped directly back into the economy via commercials, signs, campaign employment, etc.
Colorado, a political battleground this last election, saw a ton of benefit to its economy as advocacy groups and Super PACs injected money into the state, fighting for time on the airwaves.
Yes we had to suffer from an unrelenting slew of campaign ads, but how much effect did any of those ads have on you? In fact, as the race intensified and every single commercial turned political, weren’t you even more likely to tune it all out completely?
But I guess it is too much to simply ask the American people to wake up and stop being influenced by what they see on TV; political ads must have some effect, or else nobody would be spending the millions that they are.
I don’t see why, though. What’s to keep the American people from collectively deciding to completely ignore all political advertisements? It seems common knowledge that they are all misinformation usually, or half-truths at best.
Which ads are accurate? Assume that none of them are and do your own research. Then it won’t matter how many ads are thrown at you, you won’t get sucked in.
This is idealism, though, and no matter how many times it’s reiterated, it probably won’t take hold. What can we do to fix the corrupting influence of money in our system, then?
Any attempt to restrict free political speech to individuals would cause all sorts of uncertainty for media organizations, from the news to the movie and music industries — we’d have to arbitrarily decide which organizations get free speech and which don’t.
Sixty five didn’t actually do anything, but there’s already legislation that could mitigate the negative effects of big money influence in our elections, hopefully without stymieing free speech.
The DISCLOSE Act would require independent groups to disclose the names of contributors who give money for use in political campaigns, and the Fair Elections Now Act would require candidates to raise a large number of small contributions to qualify for Fair Elections funding.
Would these two pieces of legislation help combat the overt influence of big money in our system? Maybe. Would passing them possibly have negative ramifications? Probably.
Will the DISCLOSE Act and Fair Elections Now Act tangibly alter our political system? Will they combat the quid pro quo donations, revolving door lobbyists and the underhanded, oligarchic corruption that is the basis of our government? Decidedly not.
The majority of the problem isn’t that these organizations spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns, the real issue is that they get material benefits in return for their contributions.
Corporations, unions and organizations have massive incentives to lobby the government for all sorts of benefits: bailouts, subsidies, and preferential treatment.
We should be trying to end our system of corporatism and crony capitalism. Let’s demand an end to the preferential treatment, big government benefits and corporate welfare miring American taxpayers in debt.
This is what is incentivizing organizations to spend millions of dollars trying to influence our political structure, and this is what must be stopped. Citizens United is merely a symptom of the underlying disease in our system.