It’s been a crazy week in politics, particularly in Texas; the “silly season of politics”, as various people have called it, is in full swing. Unfortunately, as much as I’d love to repost that video, I have no activists in chicken suits, nor do I have anything connecting certain politicians to chickens at all. As much as I’d like to lazily put up a hilarious video on a Friday night, I’m not going to do that; plenty of people have already talked about that particular story, so I’ll give it a rest. You might have heard about the recent Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission; decided in January, this case effectively eviscerated the existing McCain-Feingold campaign finance restrictions and has remained controversial since.
Finally, a proposed solution is almost done making its way through Congress. According to the Huffington Post, the bill known as the DISCLOSE Act, or for those of you who love these crazy acronyms as much as I do, the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections Act, is intended to fix the mess that the Supreme Court started. On a side note, if there’s one thing I particularly love about Congress, it’s when they come up with these epic acronyms. Of course, the Patriot Act is still the reigning champion of legislation having an acronym as its name, but this one is still pretty good.
Anyway, campaign finance regulations: the details pertinent to this discussion is that in ruling for Citizens United, the Supreme Court essentially enabled the corporations and special interests to spend money on campaigns without restriction, whereas before there was a forest of restrictions that more or less was effective at keeping corporate and special interests at the very least regulated, if not outright restricted. Faced with the possibility of unlimited spending in an election-year free-for-all, Congress came up with this legislation to try and plug the holes.
A Bill to Counter Special Interests, Written By Special Interests?
At the beginning, it was a very strong bill, effectively forcing the head of a corporation or special interest group get on an ad much like a candidate does. For instance, you might have to see something like “I’m Tony Hayward and this message was funded by BP PLC” (just using that company as a visible example, though Big Oil will certainly try to influence the elections in their favor). That provision is still in; after all, it is the core of the legislation. However, it has been watered down significantly as a loophole as large as the NRA, the largest, most powerful advocacy group in America, was added to the bill.
Given how I described the loophole, you might assume the National Rifle Association would have something to do with the loophole; you would be absolutely correct. Of course, Congress can’t name names in legislation, so they decided to tailor the exception granted quite specifically. In fact, according to the New York Times, the legislation exempts any advocacy group that “has been around for more than ten years, has more than a million members spread out across all 50 states, and does not receive more than 15% of its funding from corporations or unions” from the disclosure rules. The NRA is one of those groups, and yes the AARP is as well, but they don’t do activism like the former group does.
Okay, while this exception is imperfect, I could accept it as a cost of doing business and as a sacrifice for a greater good. After all, we all pretty much have heard of the NRA and the AARP, and we know by and large where they stand on various issues. Even if we don’t know their specific policy statements in their latest iterations offhand, we can pretty much guess where they stand, right? Arguably, these larger groups were not the primary targets of the legislation anyway; the target was intended to be these random 527 groups and Political Action Committees such as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth from the 2004 Presidential election, not to mention corporations, that sprout up and launch attack ads every election cycle. What makes it too watered down is the fact that the exemption bar has since been lowered to include groups that only have 500,000 members.
With that, the number of groups meeting that threshold expands, and accountability suffers. This is one concession too far, ladies and gentlemen, and get this: the White House actually endorses the package. I agree that something has to be done, but where in God’s name is the backbone in this Administration? President Obama waited to get fully involved with health care reform until the very end of the process, he dropped the ball on the Deepwater Horizon spontaneous self-combustion in the Gulf of Mexico, giving a half-convincing speech about the tragedy that wasted a perfect opportunity to forcefully promote clean energy legislation currently stalled in the Senate, and now this.
What happened to standing up to the special interests, Mr. President? What we have here, folks, is instead pandering to the special interests. Attention to national Democrats: You’re Doing It Wrong. If this administration was truly serious about standing up to corporations and special interests, it would tell Congressional Democrats to take the exemption out of the bill and play good cop/bad cop up on the Hill to sway enough votes to ensure passage. Sure, that may be the “politics as usual” that President Obama promised to change, but when he made that promise I for one did not envision a government that would cater to even the slightest threat of opposition from a given lobby. Don’t get me wrong: I still support President Obama and believe that the Democrats have better ideas to govern this country, but where’s the bravery? Sure, the NRA advocates on behalf of gun owners in America, but they’re not the government. Our government should be beholden to the American people, not the special interests. The DISCLOSE Act takes a step toward providing transparency and forcing these shadowy influences into the light, but so much more could be done.
The The Fix to the Citizens United Ruling? by The New Age of Politics, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.