Baseless Fear After “Citizens United”

January 25, 2010 at 7:47 pm Leave a comment

Slowly but surely, laws restricting participation in our political system are being struck down. For decades, politicians from both sides of the aisle have come together to restrict the influence of money in our political process, specifically in the form of contribution limits for individuals and a blanket ban on political donations or advocacy from the general funds of unions of corporations. Intentions varied, of course, with some supporters honestly believing that a political process involving less “green” would benefit the American Public, while others simply hoped to silence the richest advocates of the other side to gain an edge for themselves.

Two days ago, the Supreme Court struck down the blanket ban on unions and corporations, surprisingly (or maybe not), attracting criticism from both sides of the divide; Republicans fearing unions will now be left to invest untold sums on liberal causes, Democrats afraid corporations will throw millions into trampling workers rights and environmental standards, and populist-wannabes from both sides whacking away at the ever-available “lobbyist” piñata. All sides are well advised to take a breath and realize that this disaster is not the doomsday scenario many have proclaimed it as. To prove it, we first need to discard a few notions that seem to exist among the doomsayers.

Most easily discarded is the notion that these restrictions have somehow kept unions or corporations out of our political process – they haven’t. Both are still active in the political process, even if their efforts have been forced underground to some extent. Unions still endorse candidates, still direct members to campaign, and still support a variety of political causes through decades of connections to Democratic officials. Corporations, similarly, have connections, funds, etc that allow them to influence our Democratic system.

Next comes the concern that this would somehow upset the balance of power that we have in Washington, with the two parties being relatively equal over time. Although this ruling has the potential to increase the amount of money in the political system, it doesn’t do much to destroy the balance. Unions and Corporations are relatively equal in their resources for political action (corporations have more money, but only a small amount is actually available for such purposes). The result might be more political material in sight of American voters, but probably not an overwhelming advantage for one side or the other.

Lastly, there is the concern that union presidents and CEOs will direct millions from their general funds to pet political causes, regardless of what members or shareholders want or believe. The false belief here is that either position is somehow immune to any potential reaction from others. This is false. In general, funds will be used to support causes which directly benefit each group: where the responsible party will be able to show a return on the investment, and where unions and corporations already direct most of their political involvement.

If the only result is going to be a more open and involved debate over issues of economic regulation, trade, and other things with broad ramifications for the United States, then this is a ruling we should all be content with.

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Entry filed under: Nation, Politics. Tags: , , , , .

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