How some Republicans think about free speech

This is an interesting statement:

Barney Keller, a spokesman for the super PAC Club for Growth Action Fund, contends such spending is a pure form of free speech.

“It’s a great thing when people take an interest in the election process,” Keller said. “When you have the speech police . . . writing the rules for who can spend how much and can say what in campaigns, there’s a word for that. It’s called tyranny.”

The whole point of super PACs is to allow a person or corporation to give an unlimited amounts of money. So, in theory, a company like Apple or Exxon or a person like Bill Gates or the Koch brothers could spend as much as the rest of us combined. According to Keller this would be great and trying to stop it from happening is tyranny. Barney Keller for one would welcome our corporate overlords. I, on the other hand, think this has the possibility of distorting democracy so much that it would no longer be real democracy. One of the purposes of the Sherman anti-trust bill was to not allow a company to get too big, because if it did it might distort democracy.

Montana and corruption

At least part of Montana’s rules on campaign donations is still around, barely:

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Montana’s campaign donation limits, telling the federal judge who struck down the limits that the panel needs to see his full reasoning so it can review the case.

The court intervened late Tuesday less than a week after the judge’s decision opened the door to unlimited money in state elections – during the height of election season.

In response, U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell issued a 38-page conclusion Wednesday morning that reinforced his earlier decision finding that the state’s limits are too low to allow effective campaigning. He suggested the state Legislature would have a “clean canvas” to perhaps establish new, higher limits that could meet constitutional muster.

The 9th circuit did not immediately respond, leaving the state limits in place – for the time being. The legal back and forth came with less than a month until Election Day.

Montana was one of the states that had a campaign finance law overturned by the Citizens United decision:

The Supreme Court has struck down a Montana ban on corporate political money, ruling 5 to 4 that the controversial 2010 Citizens United ruling applies to state and local elections.

The court broke in American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock along the same lines as in the original Citizens United case, when the court ruled that corporate money is speech and thus corporations can spend unlimited amounts on elections.

What makes this ruling especially grating is the reasoning in Citizens United:

In his original decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy argued that independent campaign expenditures by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Ginsberg argued that the Montana case was an opportunity to reconsider “in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance.”

The Montana law was passed about 100 years ago because of specific, actual corruption:

 a law dating back to 1912, when the country was just beginning to stagger out  of its previous Gilded Age, that forbade corporate contributions to election  campaigns. This law was passed partly as a consequence of the activities of one  William Clark,The Copper King, who spent tens of thousands of dollars to buy  himself a Senate seat, back in the days in which this required the wholesale  purchase of state legislators, and did so in such an egregious and clumsy  fashion that the U.S. Senate tossed him out on his ear, Montana passed its law  and, eventually, the country ratified the 17th Amendment, providing for the  direct election of Senators which, as we have seen, has now led to the wholesale  purchase of U.S. Senate seats by corporate proxies, thanks to the nine wise  souls in Washington.

There’s more  here:

This article first details the extent of that corruption, which was so pervasive that in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt’s Solicitor General, echoing Mark Twain, described Montana as a place “where open confessions of sales of political and even judicial influence were lightly looked upon. The article describes three examples that the Solicitor General likely had in mind. The first involved the election of copper king William Andrews Clark to the U.S. Senate in 1899. Clark won his election through a brazen bribery campaign that ended up being the focus of an investigation by the U.S. Senate, which forced Clark to resign a few months after taking office. The other two examples concern corrupt district judges elected in Butte in 1900, Edward Harney and William Clancy, who had been “bought and paid for” by another copper king, F. Augustus Heinze. Their numerous biased rulings in Heinze’s favor in some of the most high-stakes litigation in the United States had substantial impacts on the State and the Nation.

Mark Twain even got into it:

He is said to have bought legislatures and judges as other men buy food and raiment. By his example he has so excused and so sweetened corruption that in Montana it no longer has an offensive smell. His history is known to everybody; he is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a ball and chain on his legs. To my mind he is the most disgusting creature that the republic has produced since Tweed’s time.

Anyway, I hope this little bit of campaign finance reform holds.

DISCLOSE Act

The Supreme Court, in their Citizens United decision, said that money is speech, but even they thought that the name of the donors should be disclosed. Of course, Republicans are against it:

The bill is a reintroduction of similar legislation that came close to passing last Congress. That bill won 59 votes in the Senate in 2010, falling one vote shy of overcoming a Republican-led filibuster.

Their reason (ok, the reason the Chamber of Commerce is against it):

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a powerful lobby force and a heavy political spender, was a vocal opponent to the Disclose Act last Congress, and attacked the new bill as a “politically-motivated” attack on free speech. 

”It is unfortunate that certain politicians want to single out and stifle the speech of one group — the business community — under the guise of ‘disclosure.’ This is a transparent, politically-motivated effort to seek out and punish a competing viewpoint in the political discourse,” said Blair Latoff, a Chamber spokeswoman.

Ya see, this is democracy in action (via here):

An anonymous donor gave $10 million late last year to run ads attacking President Obama and Democratic policies, escalating the money race that is defining the 2012 presidential campaign. And in the new, free-wheeling environment of independent political giving, the identity of this donor, like many others, is likely to remain a permanent mystery.

The donation went to Crossroads GPS, the conservative nonprofit group founded with the support of political strategist Karl Rove. Another donor gave $10 million in the 2010 midterm elections, according to draft tax returns that provide the first detailed look at its finances.

Crossroads GPS and its sister group, American Crossroads, hope to spend up to $300 million in the 2012 election cycle,promoting conservative ideas and helping elect Republicans up and down the ballot.

The tax returns show that Crossroads GPS has collected the vast majority of its donations from the super-rich. The forms show that nearly 90 percent of its contributions through the end of 2011 had come from as few as two dozen donors, each giving $1 million or more. Overall, the nonprofit group raised more than $76 million since it was founded in May 2010 through the end of 2011.

At least it’s the way democracy should work according to corporations. They should be able to say and do anything they want with no repercussions and since disclosure of political donations could affect sales, there shouldn’t be disclosure. On the other hand, many of us think that with rights come responsibilities–I have a right to speech, but others have a right to respond. And we think unlimited anonymous money in politics has a corrosive effect on democracy, which is why we, at a minimum, think the large donors should be disclosed. If you agree, sign the petition to try to get the DISCLOSE act passed.

Rick Hasen talks about the Senate hearings here.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 151 other followers

%d bloggers like this: