We all recall when Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito shook his head and mouthed “not true” after President Obama said this during his 2010 State of the Union Address, responding to the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission:
With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests –- including foreign corporations –- to spend without limit in our elections. I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people.
Considering what’s going on in the Republican primaries right now, it could be argued that we all should thank Justice Alito and the four other justices who ruled for the plaintiff. Not for the opening-the-floodgates part, or the bit about American elections being bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests. The floodgates have undoubtedly done just as the President predicted, and a very small number of billionaires have picked a personal presidential candidate. In fact, Newt Gingrich’s benefactor, Sheldon Adelson, reportedly said today:
“I’m against very wealthy people attempting to, or influencing elections… But as long as it’s doable, I’m going to do it.”
Not only are they attempting to buy the election – Adelson argues that they can’t help it! But if nothing else, billionaires like Adelson and Foster Friess are allowing the American people to get a much better look at the Republican field than they might have prior to Citizens United.
Establishment Republicans might say that look has gone on too long. Their candidate of choice, Mitt Romney, has only proven to be a more unlikeable, less successful, and more beatable as the primary process marches on. And even with Donald Trump and his own handful of really wealthy folks on his side, his huge campaign money advantage isn’t as great. Citizens United may have helped the party of the One Percent do something against its nature: level the playing field.
Rick Santorum’s ascendance isn’t all that hard to figure out. It coincides with an even more pronounced party-wide shift away from actual, well, issues facing the country. The President’s popularity is up, and the economy is doing better. So it’s back towards what worked so well for Republicans in 2004: wedge issues like abortion and gay marriage. Now even those are so widely accepted as American norms that they’ve trying to make contraception, the President’s “theology” and faith, as well as Reverend Jeremiah Wright. These are the things that supposedly serious Republicans are asking us to debate.
And that Santorum is even still running is because candidates are no longer as beholden to polls and primary results. Who cares about them when each candidate can now withdraw even foreign money from an unending super-PAC ATM?
So is the problem actually Citizens United? In a way, yes, argues Tanay Kothari of Berkeley Political Review:
The great irony of Republican support for the Citizens United decision lies in the fact that it may cost them the 2012 election. The spate of negative advertising has doomed every prospective Republican nominee to a tough uphill battle in November. Political action committees run by Rick Santorum and Mr. Gingrich have mercilessly attacked Mitt Romney’s record… Since politicians are legally forbidden from coordinating with their political action committees, these attacks have been made with a degree of impunity. At this point, there is no doubt that each Republican candidate is slightly weaker than he would have been in an election cycle without super PACs. Unless party directives push in the other direction, this trend is likely to continue.
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