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PACS: Look what Supreme Court hath wrought

Letter by Justin Earick, Tacoma on Feb. 21, 2012 at 5:18 pm with 25 Comments »
February 21, 2012 5:19 pm

Re: “Myths only serve to add confusion over super PACs” (Robert J. Samuelson column, 2-21).

I find it very interesting that in a column about super PACs, Samuelson fails to mention the U.S. Supreme Court decision that brought them about. In 2010’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, the court determined that corporations are essentially people, and the super PAC was “born.” This followed the Buckley v. Valeo ruling that defined money as speech, and thus could not be limited.

These two court decisions combined to break the back of the campaign finance reform laws that were achieved amidst the public outrage surrounding Watergate.

The Federal Election Campaign Act prohibited donations from foreign nationals, banks, government contractors, corporations and unions. It also required that candidates disclose the sources of contributions, and their total campaign expenditure to the Federal Election Commission.

Big-money interests immediately began tearing down these achievements, showing no sign of mercy. And for good reason: The results are remarkable; 94 percent of elections are won by the most grotesquely inflated campaign armament. In 2011, 196 people contributed 80 percent of all super PAC moneys.

Today, we see three billionaires virtually vying for a spot atop the presidential ticket through millionaire surrogates: Sheldon Adelson via Newt Gingrich, Foster Friess via Rick Santorum and Frank VanderSloot via Mitt Romney.

Our predicament was wrought by persistent attacks that have bludgeoned reform laws into submission, and a toxic atmosphere, which administers constant pressure to raise the money necessary to buy re-election.

Leave a comment Comments → 25
  1. concernedtacoma7 says:

    And then you have Soros, big finance, and Hollywood on the other side. At the end of the day, they basically cancel each other out.

    What is the point here?

  2. elmerfudd says:

    So long as government has the power and funds to make or break business, business will find a way to influence government. Their survival is at stake. They’ll hire lobbyists, create PACS, fund think tanks, and sometimes just flat out bribe and buy politicians and officials.

    Create whatever laws you like, but unless you nationalize the entire economy you can’t stop it.

  3. Elmer – or we could take big money out of the question by enacting and enforcing meaningful campaign finance laws.

    FYI – the purpose of government is to do what is best for we the people not to insure businesses are profitable.

  4. bobcat1a says:

    “FYI – the purpose of government is to do what is best for we the people not to insure businesses are profitable.” Well, xring, it’s obvious you are not a Republican.

  5. sandblower says:

    The only Cpac supporting President Obama raised $100,000 while the repubs were in the millions. Who is buying whom? The answer is obvious.
    Gingrich is as slimy now as he was in 1994; maybe worse with all the experience he has had. Rumknee and Insanitorum are the really scary ones though. Forget separation of church and state with either of them.

  6. Candles16 says:

    Justin Earick is right that the current Supreme Court is wrong to have opened up the floodgates of corruption and graft. The Citizens United Decision will either arouse the American people to overturn the absurd ruling by a bunch of reactionary activist judges, or this country will succumb to fascism and the collapse of the republic.

    Some of the corrupt Supreme Court justices should be impeached for their conflict of interests, but with the corrupt conservatives in Congress now it is unlikely. So we should make sure we have a president who appoints honest justices that will overturn this miscarriage of justice, and at the same time throw out the corrupt reactionaries in Congress that have become wholly owned subsidiaries of billionaires who want to own the country.

  7. concernedtacoma7 says:

    Molly Ringwald- you are a little heavy on conspiracy and light on fact.

    The case was argued in 09 and decided in Jan 10. What were the political demographics of Congress at the time?

  8. ct7 – do your fingers get all twisted in knots when you type these partisan defenses? Cuz your logic is definitely having to go through all sorts of deviations.

    Your first response was the typical kneejerk one: “Soros!” “Hollywood!” and “The Dems take Wall St. money too!”

    And then you second one “Dems controlled Congress”

    What does any of that have to do with a Supreme Court decision? And, how does any of this support the idea that somehow opening the floodgates to massive influxes of money from individuals (from either side) is helping our democratic process?

  9. Vox_clamantis_in_deserto says:

    With all due respect to… well to more than two and less than four of the foregoing commenters, you’ve all been completely suckered by this letter writer. Anyone taking the two minutes to actually read the linked article would realize that Justin is merely using the opportunity it affords to parrot the leftist bete noir du jour: the Citizen’s United case. bB & candles16 could be excused for having read and commented on the piece – if one cares to ignore the “knee-jerk” attack on probably the only truly unbiased editor at the Washington Post, and the far left rant against the CU decision only slightly more assiduous than the one up-thread.

    The entire piece is spot on, and only the most dogmatic among us would disagree. It is well worth the full read. Samuelson speaks the truth in advocating the repeal of most campaign finance laws.

    Incidentally, you doctrinaires must have missed the fact that Samuelson not only does not mention the Citizens United case, but he doesn’t mention McCain Feingold.

  10. Vox_clamantis_in_deserto says:

    Okay, for the navigation challenged the following are the first five paragraphs of the Samuelson piece:

    WASHINGTON – The emergence of super PACs shows once again that “campaign finance reform” has failed abysmally. After nearly four decades, it has achieved none of its goals. It has not purged politics of big donations, nor cured public cynicism about the influence of the rich, nor made elected leaders more trusted. What it has done is compromise basic First Amendment rights, clutter politics with baffling laws and regulations, and actually deepen cynicism.

    Except for contribution disclosures, campaign finance laws should be scrapped. If there were no limits on individual contributions to candidates (the basic limit is $2,500 per candidate per election, meaning $5,000 for a primary and general election together), there would be few – if any – super PACs. The wealthy would give to candidates directly instead of resorting to some contorted alternative. Super PACs are merely the latest of many contortions born of a muddled Supreme Court.

    On the one hand, the court has blessed limits on direct contributions to candidates and political parties. The rationale: to prevent corruption and its appearance – undue influence by big contributors. On the other, the court has also said that the First Amendment guarantees Americans the right to spend unlimited amounts to elect anyone they wish. It’s free speech. In Buckley v. Valeo (1976), the court tried to reconcile the contradictions by saying people could make unlimited “independent expenditures” not “coordinated” with the candidates or their campaigns.

    The unsurprising result is that both parties searched for new ways to maximize spending without violating the letter of the law. These have included PACs (political action committees), so-called 527 groups, “soft money” and now super PACs, which can accept unlimited contributions and make “independent expenditures” (mainly media advertising). The trouble is that these various responses, though legally clever, seem ethically suspect to many Americans. The press generally adopts the same attitude.

    The perception that political operatives and wealthy donors are skirting contribution limits – as they are – creates the aura of corruption and even criminality. Super PACs also seem to make candidates’ campaigns less accountable. The fact that all this is an exercise of First Amendment rights is simply ignored. The paradox is that campaign financial “reform,” far from allaying public suspicion of the political system, deepens it.

    And another link to the full piece:

    Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2012/02/21/2034768/myths-only-serve-to-add-confusion.html#storylink=cpy

  11. Flanagan says:

    The only Cpac supporting President Obama raised $100,000 while the repubs were in the millions.”

    Giggle…maybe folks are sick of BO and aren’t gonna take it anymore…thus the lack of donations.

  12. vox — mccain fiengold was repealed, what would the point of mentioning it be? oh thats right, it backs up the argument that reform laws have been neutered to the point of being basically impotent in halting the reality we see today where we auction off our seats in government to the highest bidder.

    94% of elections are won by the biggest purse…case closed.

  13. flanagan, the reason pac money is so prevalent on the right is that people like the koch brothers dont know who the nominee will be yet, and so they arent going to throw their cash behind a specific candidate until they know for sure who it will be.

    dems do know for sure that obama will be atop the ticket, so the need for a pac really doesnt exist. supporters can give money to the campaign, and avoid the pacs altogether.

    republicans simply do not have that luxury at this point in the election season.

  14. Flanagan:
    In Jan 2012, President Obama’s raised $29.1 million in, outpacing last year’s figures, and 98 percent of those donations were $250 and less.


    In the general election, Real Clear Politics currently gives Obama a 5.7% lead over Romney,6.4% of Santorum, 8.3% over Paul, and 13.7% over Gingrich.

  15. Cardinous says:

    On this morning’s Comcast.net, Obama leads all republican candidates and holds 50% or more of the polling. (AP)

    Maybe the message from the people is “we can’t be bought”

  16. The article written by ROBERT J. SAMUELSON; THE WASHINGTON POST 2/21/2012 entitled…
    Myths only serve to add confusion over super PACS

    … is a load of Hoo-Hah!

    Samuelson lists these three “myths” to somehow justify his assertion that campaign finance reform has “failed.” Campaign finance reform hasn’t really failed, in as much as it has been purposely destroyed!

    His conclusion that removing all limits on campaign contributions would eliminate SuperPACS is absolutely moronic. But even worse than that are the really stupid so-called “Myths” he gens-up to somehow support his goofy thesis.

    Myth One: The rich and corporate interests rule government through campaign contributions and lobbying.

    His Justification: Because 60% of 2009 Fed spending went to individuals.

    The Reality: Rich people don’t lobby government to get money from the government. They lobby government so they can get by with paying less in taxes, like Romney’s sub 15% rate. The rich lobby government to repeal regulations so they can exploit people in this and other countries so they can make more money. They lobby, read “bribe and coerce” government officials with money, to get contracts and special insider information. Through money the rich corporate interests do rule much of government.

    Myth Two: Political spending is out of control.

    His Justification: In 2008, spending for federal elections (the president, Congress) totaled $5.3 billion… By comparison, Americans spent $297 billion in 2008 on mobile and landline phones.

    The Reality: What do personal telephones have to do with political spending? That’s a comparison of Apples vs. Pomegranates! What a really stupid comparison! Political spending is out of control, because now, thanks to the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United, there are virtually no controls on how much money can be collected through PACS and SuperPACS. No collection control, means no spending control. That’s just basic logic.

    Myth Three: Spending isn’t speech.

    His Justification: “try “getting your message out” without spending.”

    The Reality: Spending isn’t speech, because Speech is Speech. Spending (money) enables speech, but it enables so much more than just speech. Spending (money) can be used to “get your message out” but spending money is also used to shut-up your opponent – as in anti-speech, opposition research, negative ads. Spending (money) is used to bribe party officials, election officials, candidates, voters and more. Spending (money) is used in politics to create a grossly uneven playing field so that good candidates with poor initial funding are eliminated early before they get a chance to speak and get their message out. Spending (money) is a tool, it’s a weapon, that rich SuperPAC supported candidates can use against others to advance their own less than stellar campaigns, as we have seen this year on the Republican side of things.

    Removing all campaign finance limits will only bring this country closer to one that has “the best government money can buy!” and to hell with The Constitution after that happens!

  17. Vox_clamantis_in_deserto says:

    vox — mccain fiengold was repealed, what would the point of mentioning it be? oh thats right, it backs up the argument that reform laws have been neutered to the point of being basically impotent in halting the reality we see today where we auction off our seats in government to the highest bidder.

    First of all, McCain/ Feingold was not “repealed”. Certain portions of it were clarified or ruled unconstitutional under what is now commonly referred to as the Citizens United case. Therefore, it follows that any required mention of the CU case should at least also include the cause of that ruling – McCain/ Feingold. That Samuelson didn’t mention either is a testament to his nonpartisanship – a genuine rarity at the WAPo.

    As to your insinuation that I somehow favor the status quo – or even McCain/ Feingold as originally written – perhaps you need to re-read my first post whereby I stated that I agree with Samuelson, and the prevailing sentiment of many experts of all political persuasions; that most of all campaign finance laws should be scrapped, and individuals – including corporations – should be allowed to contribute as much as they like to candidates and issues with far fewer strings.



  18. concernedtacoma7 says:

    Bb- the point of my comments is this is not a partisan issue. How can one blame a conservative congress for the current case decision?

    My second comment was a response to candles. Not sure how you missed that.

    One of the Gladwell books goes into campaign finance. The effect of big money, according to his research, is not that great.

  19. BlaineCGarver says:

    Unlimited spending and 100% disclosure, please, or severely limited spending.

  20. Anothermoniker says:

    “Some of the corrupt Supreme Court justices should be impeached for their conflict of interests, but with the corrupt conservatives in Congress now it is unlikely.”

    Someone needs reading lessons. The comment blames the conservatives in Congress for lack of gnards to impeach the offending justices, not for the decision itself.

    In reality, I doubt that it’s a reading deficiency. It’s just plain misrepresentation of a very simple comment by a very concise reader. Stock in trade for a conservative.

  21. well the reasonable solution is to have 12 week elections that are publicly financed. this eliminates the constant campaign season that we currently see, so we would actually get tangible results in the form of legislation from our “leaders”. congress, the least productive we’ve seen, ADMITS to spending 25% of their time fundraising. this solution would stop the constant pandering to big-money interests of all stripes for campaign contributions.

    if all limits were eliminated, d.c. would be reduced to a perpetual state of lobbying and fundraising.

    if money is speech, then how is a bribe considered illegal? if you are simply offering your “speech” to another citizen, is your money basically your opinion? sharing your opinion is not illegal.

    these conservative, judicial-activists whom represent a 5-4 majority of our highest court, have made a mockery of our judicial system. kindergartners understand that corporations are not people and money is not speech; just ask one, it’s common sense.

  22. One of the Gladwell books goes into campaign finance. The effect of big money, according to his research, is not that great.</i.

    If by "not that great" you mean "not very good" then I concur but I doubt that is what you mean.

    Not that great of an impact – except
    To seriously compete a candidate has raise huge amounts of funding so that they need to start fund-raising as soon as they get into office for the next campaign.

    I suggest you view the documentary film Casino Jack to see what the impact of unlimited funding has been.

    I, for one, find it completely repugnant that some think that "voting with your dollars" should be part of the electoral process.

  23. Did that stop the horror of an all italics thread?

  24. Looks like you fixed it beerBoy! Nice work!

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