When the Supreme Court handed down the Citizens United ruling January 21, 2010 that cleared the way for corporations to spend unlimited amounts of cash in political campaigns with very little transparency, it even prompted the President of the United States, Barack Obama, to mention it in his State of the Union address. It elicited the childish, “nuh uh” look and utterance from Justice Alito — that instead of sparking a debate about the decision, made the media pontificate about whether it was appropriate for the President to mention the ruling and whether Alito’s response was appropriate. To me it signaled that the President really does care about the influence money has in our politics.
Now I know the haters on the left and right will trot out the old, President Obama has gotten a lot of money from big business meme, but when you look at what they base it on, it’s people who work for big business who are giving to President Obama. And yes, some of the leaders of business as well. And in their criticism lies an assumption that everyone who works for a big business is conservative and/or Republican. And that those employees, being all conservative, must be giving to President or candidate Obama because he is conservative too or that they are buying influence with him. They opine that anyone with money must be conservative and therefore if they give to a Democrat, then Democrats must be just like Republicans. It’s quite a twisted line of reasoning when you break it down. It’s just one example of the simplistic logic that permeates our media and punditry.
I had a real world example in my family. My step father was a successful lawyer and businessman, yet he donated to and voted for Democrats all his life. He also was a philanthropist and gave a lot of his money to many different causes and was modest in how he spent money. I go back to a recent post where I derided the concept of generalizing, where it is so much easier for people to just lump everyone together and attack that lump, instead of deal with real people with varying opinions. The same holds true for those who want to vilify everyone who works on Wall Street or for an evil corporation.
Now on to the actions that President Obama took last week, which shows he stands with the American people against the influence of money in our politics. RMuse gives us an excellent article at Politcususa, where she reports on President Obama’s drafting of an executive order that will make corporations doing business with the federal government more accountable for their donations:
On Wednesday it was reported that President Obama was drafting an executive order that would require companies pursuing federal contracts to disclose political contributions that have been secret under the Citizen’s United ruling. A senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, Hans A. von Spakovsky, lambasted the proposed executive order saying that, “The draft order tries to interfere with the First Amendment rights of contractors.” Mr. von Spakovsky dutifully made all the right-wing, neo-con arguments including bringing Planned Parenthood and unions into the discussion. The draft order did not exempt any entity from disclosure rules and presents a reasonable requirement on contractors seeking government contracts. Several states have similar “pay to play” laws to prevent businesses from using unlimited donations to buy lucrative state contracts from slimy legislators. Thus far the only legislator who has railed against the proposed order was Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). McConnell called the proposal an “outrageous and anti-Democratic abuse of executive branch authority,” and went on to say, “Just last year, the Senate rejected a cynical effort to muzzle critics of this administration and its allies in Congress.”
If you are wondering why the Professional Left isn’t all over this story and lauding the President for taking action against the influence of money in our politics, well, you aren’t alone in wondering.
One of the biggest mouths in the Professional Left, the one and only Glenn Greenwald, thinks the Citizens United ruling is just peachy. I won’t link to him directly because he counts on that, but I did find another blogger who quoted Greenwald on his defending corporations as people and thus their first amendment rights. (emphasis mine)
I tend to take a more absolutist view of the First Amendment than many people, but laws which prohibit organized groups of people — which is what corporations are — from expressing political views goes right to the heart of free speech guarantees no matter how the First Amendment is understood. Does anyone doubt that the facts that gave rise to this case — namely, the government’s banning the release of a critical film about Hillary Clinton by Citizens United — is exactly what the First Amendment was designed to avoid? And does anyone doubt that the First Amendment bars the government from restricting the speech of organizations composed of like-minded citizens who band together in corporate form to work for a particular cause?
I know that there were previous rulings by the Supreme Court upon which this idea that corporations are people was based — way back in the early 1900s when corporations where just a wee bit different than today. But regardless, we are dealing in todays reality and as we’ve all witnessed, the influence of gigantic corporate power has marginalized the rest of us, even those of us in unions or members of other organizations that have banded together.
If we look at Greenwald’s words above, we can see how absurd it is to argue that corporations are people. He says corporations are “organized groups of people” and later says they are “composed of like-minded citizens who band together in corporate form”, which I’ll be honest, made me laugh out loud when I read it. People who work for corporations are “like-minded citizens” who have banded together. Do I even need to counter that? People work for corporations to make money, to feed their families, to pay their bills and try to live the elusive “American Dream.” But in Glenn’s world, apparently it is just folks banding together with like-minded friends “to work for a particular cause.” Laugh if you feel inclined.
The response to that quote from Greenwald at theusconstitution.org blog was pretty dead on and referred to the dissent from the minority on the court, led by Justice Stevens:
Whether one calls this an “absolutist” view or just an “overly simplistic” one is, perhaps, a matter of semantics, but Greenwald is missing the point. Yes, individuals should have the right to form and express political views, whether as a voting bloc, an alliance of protestors, or a legally-recognized entity that collects individual donations to advance a political message. If the Court had written a narrow opinion vindicating the speech of such groups, it is likely that we would have seen a unanimous opinion. After all, at oral argument, Justice Stevens himself argued for precisely this result.
It should be noted that Glenn Greenwald sided with the conservative wing of the court, the very same one that handed President Bush his election in 2000 and stood by the Bush administration who was running roughshod over our rights. I guess civil libertarians have different ways of thinking about things.
Another argument put forth by Glenn Greenwald in defense of the Citizens United rulings was the idea that outcomes don’t matter. Glenn W. Smith at Dog Canyon does an excellent job taking on Greenwald’s simplistic view about outcomes. Smith claims that “Mr. Greenwald says outcomes don’t matter. A principle is a principle.” Well, except when that principle is treason, as in the case of Bradley Manning. Then, outcomes seem to be a little more important to Mr. Greenwald.
Cross-posted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles