Thursday, January 21, 2010

Way Beyond Health Legislation

No gloating, here. It's merely a suggestion that Senator John McCain (R.-AZ) may want to turn his attention away from health care (especially given the limited nature of the Senate bill) to what is probably an even more important matter- a direct assault on a cause McCain has long weathered attacks from fellow Republicans and conservatives to push.

A CBS News blog notes that on its The Early Show today, McCain

said the health care reform plan Democrats have been trying to push through Congress "hopefully is dead," following the election of Republican Scott Brown as Massachusetts senator.

"We are more than happy to sit down and start over. Not scale back, but start over in a true negotiating process rather than the Democrats going back to try to pick off one or two Republicans."

Health care reform is not dead, and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell had a good suggestion (especially the first, beginning at approximately :45) yesterday during his appearance (video below) on The Rachel Maddow Show. No, health care reform is not dead. But, unfortunately, McCain-Feingold is- as we've known it- dead. CNN reports that Citizens United, barred by campaign financing law to televise its hit job on Senator Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primary season, has won its case in the United States Supreme Court:

A 5-4 conservative majority crafted a narrow overhaul of federal campaign spending Thursday that could have an immediate effect on this year's congressional midterm elections....

The opinion radically alters the election calculus, offering greater spending flexibility for a broader range of for-profit and nonprofit groups seeking a voice in the crowded national political debate.

In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, "In a democratic society, the long-standing consensus on the need to limit corporate campaign spending should outweigh the wooden applications of judge-made rules."

He added, "The court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation."

The case was the first one heard on the bench for newest Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and she voted in dissent with her three more liberal colleagues.

The issue hinged on whether corporations' ability to pour money into election campaigns could be strictly regulated, or whether corporations have free-speech rights to spend their cash to influence elections, just as individual donors do.

In this ruling, the justices also nullified earlier rulings upholding the core of a 6-year-old federal law aimed at curbing corporate campaign spending. Under current law, there are severe restrictions on campaign ads used by corporations for federal elections. They generally must be issue-focused -- talking about abortion or taxes, for instance -- and not expressly supporting or opposing a candidate. Those limits have now been generally removed.

That law would be McCain-Feingold ("The Campaign Bipartisan Reform Act of 2002"), and this ruling has the potential to transform the American political system by further cementing the corporate domination of American political life and economy. And it is far more important than anything that happened on Tuesday in Massachusetts or any effort by any Republican Senator to derail efforts to provide higher quality health care to the American people.


Dan said...

I'm no expert in the law, but my understanding is that the Supreme Court's role is to examine cases and determine whether laws are or are not constitutional, not whether they are socially ideal by the standards of the Justices or the public or those who appoint them. This ruling allows corporations and unions to now use their money to run political ads supporting or opposing opponents, which I believe is clearly their right to express and in line with the legal view of corporations. It also ends the ban on "issue ads" in the last 30 days before an election, which I think was unconstitutional and an arbitrary restriction. The ruling does not remove restrictions on direct campaign contributions, which I think is good and has no constitutional problem.

I think its rather telling that those upset with the ruling, including the President, have responded by talking about the flood of ads from special interests, rather than saying anything about the constitutionality of the issue. I'm gonna be as annoyed as anyone when corporations start airing tons of commercials, but the Supreme Court is an instrument of interpreting law according to the Constitution, not interpreting what is best for society and democracy.

The argument in favor of the laws seems to be that corporations will air tons of ads and have a greater sway in influencing people in their voting, so we need these laws to make sure people aren't influenced so much by them, especially since they have their own interests at heart and not "the public interest". Inherent in this is that voters are basically dumb and will side with whoever the most commercials tell them to. I think any person or organization or company has a right to try and influence me by advertising or speaking or publishing as much as they want to. The answer is not to stop those who try to influence or to attempt to equalize the amount of influence from all parties, rather it is for people to examine those who are advertising and to be more informed about the facts and issues. Misinformation and unequal influence occured under this law and it will continue to occur. Even with these restrictions, the dumb people will just be influenced by the strongest voices that are deemed by liberals as more noble than corporations.

If you argue corporations should not have the same rights as people, then that is broader issue which needs a seperate court case and would alter the legal landscape greatly. If corporations should be restricted in this way because they aren't people, so should organization and unions.

Greg said...

Well Dan, I'm certainly not an expert in law either. But it's debatable whether corporations (and labor unions) are covered in the same way as individual citizens by the first amendment. They are not specifically mentioned by name in the first amendment.

Corporations are also not treated the same way as individual citizens in a variety of ways. Most noteworthy in this case is financially (of course); corporations are handled differently than private citizens (given tax incentives for example) because of their tremendous importance to our economy.

In regards to your last sentence, the ruling does cover unions; but they have far less money than corporations (making this a great win for the repubs as they are traditionally more aligned with business than their Democratic party counterparts). Less money=less influence.

Let's talk about that influence. As David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times stated recently, this ruling will expectedly spark a surge in negative advertising (which Americans seem to despise and are arguably effective because they're so prevalent already). Kirkpatrick argues that this surge will occur because candidates don't have to endorse the ad and therefore take responsibility for it.

You say that the answer is for "people to examine those who are advertising and to be more informed about the facts and issues." I admire your optimism, but frankly don't think the majority of Americans have the time, interest, intelligence (or any combination of the three) to sufficiently do this; and will be even less effective in this attempt amidst a new burst of negative advertising.

Dan said...

The decision whether to allocate rights such as free speech to corporations is all or nothing. Either they get these rights, or they don't; it cannot be they do at certain times (aka anytime before 30 days of an election) or they can have free speech, just not regarding politics. This is the essence of the problem with campaign finance restrictions on advertising. The Courts have consistently upheld that they have such rights, and the Judges ruled these campaign finance laws unconstitutional because it went against that. If corporations don't have the same rights of free speech, government should then be able to limit their speech in any form or instance, and the same can be done for organizations and unions.

Again you run away from whether they are constitutional and conform to precedent and instead run to the social effects and harm to democrats, which should not be a consideation of the Court (though in the dissent they argue about "harm to democracy"). Since you do, I will deal with these effects as well. I have real issues with the claims of this causing the undoing of our democracy. Big business tends to give to incumbunents, including democratic candidates, which gained a lot of corporate money in 08. Corruption has existed and will continue to exist.

You again point to the ignorance of the masses and how they will follow the big influencers. I again say that if this is true then the masses will (and are currently) just following whoever is remaining to influence them the most, i.e. the candidate with the most money and ads who doesn't take public financing (such as Obama in 08). Is it fair such candidates should get more influence? By this argument the system is and has always been unfair and everything should be equalized in advertising and money to prevent undue influence by anyone. If you want public financing for all campaigns, that's fine, but don't pick out corporations because they aren't as "noble" or in the public interest as you deem the other factions to be.

Furthermore, it will be easy for candidates with less corporate support to make that a campaign message and a strength, just as Obama did in 08. This ruling does nothing to direct contributions or the ability of candidates to stump, air their own ads, have websites, and influence away with money they get. I'm also doubtful that corporations will see it in their interest to heavily demonize candidates with negative ads because those candidates could win and have the ability to govern unfavorably towards them. If memory serves me correctly, major companies gave donations to candidates from both parties in the 08 presidential race to cover their bases, so I think such behavior would continue.

Greg said...

I did not “run away from whether they are constitutional.” Corporations are not in the first amendment. My point about whether this is good or bad for the Democratic party was not to side with the party just to do that. My point was that I believe the ruling also covers labor unions (which I thought you overlooked in your first comment); and merely wanted to point out an expected implication for the two parties. I want what’s best for our nation; I’m not a tool for the Democratic party in this discussion.

The social effects are somewhat important in this discussion; yes the constitution must be upheld, but the ruling’s implications of the welfare on society is also fair to consider. I agree that corruption goes on right now and will continue under this ruling.


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