"[L]aws in 24 states were directly or indirectly called into question by the ruling" of Thursday's Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC, which overturned limitations on corporate spending in elections, the New York Times reported late Friday. -- "The decision, however, has consequences for all states," Ian Urbina said, "since they are now effectively prohibited from adopting restrictions on corporate and union spending on political campaigns." -- "For now, the decision does not overturn all the state laws in question, but it is only a matter of time, experts said, before the laws will be challenged in the courts or repealed by state legislatures. Since the state laws are vulnerable, it is unlikely that officials will continue enforcing them, experts said." -- The Senate majority leader in Iowa called the ruling "absolutely outrageous." -- Taking a positive view, David Primo, a political science professor at the University of Rochester, said he thought that "The decision may galvanize reformers to push harder for public financing of elections." -- And in a separate piece written for the Sunday Times, David Kirkpatrick noted that "Legal scholars and social scientists say the evidence is meager, at best, that the post-Watergate campaign finance system has accomplished the broad goals its supporters asserted." -- COMMENT: Indeed, so true is this that it has become commonplace to refer to the present U.S. political system as a "corporatocracy"; see, for example, Thom Hartmann, Screwed (2007); Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion (2009); Eugene Jarecki, The American Way of War (2008); Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine (2007); John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (2004); Richard Rorty, Against Bosses, Against Oligarchy (2002); Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated (2008)....
24 STATES' LAWS OPEN TO ATTACK AFTER CAMPAIGN FINANCE RULING
By Ian Urbina
New York Times
January 23, 2010 (posted Jan. 22)
[PHOTO CAPTION: The site of a proposed Meijer store in Acme Township, Mich. A township board faced a recall election after blocking the plan.]
[GRAPHIC: The Ruling's Impact on States. Campaign finance experts predict Thursday's Supreme Court ruling will have a major impact on state and local races, especially in the 24 states that ban or restrict corporate spending on candidate elections. Nineteen of those states have races for governor this year. States that ban or restrict advertising spending by corporations in candidate elections: With races for governor this year [Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, Alaska, Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Tennessee, Alabama]; Without [Montana, North Dakota, Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina]. Sources: Campaign Legal Center; National Conferences of State Legislatures.]
In Wisconsin, conservative and pro-business groups said Friday that they were considering a lawsuit to block a proposed law that would ban corporate spending during political campaigns.
In Kentucky and Colorado, lawmakers looked for provisions in their state constitutions that may need to be rewritten. And in Texas, lawyers for Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, said the pending state campaign finance case against him should be thrown out.
A day after the United States Supreme Court ruled that the federal government may not ban political spending by corporations or unions in candidate elections, officials across the country were rushing to cope with the fallout, as laws in 24 states were directly or indirectly called into question by the ruling.
“One day the Constitution of Colorado is the highest law of the state,” said Robert F. Williams, a law professor at Rutgers University. “The next day it’s wastepaper.”
The states that explicitly prohibit independent expenditures by unions and corporations will be most affected by the ruling. The decision, however, has consequences for all states, since they are now effectively prohibited from adopting restrictions on corporate and union spending on political campaigns.
In his dissent to the 5-to-4 ruling, Justice John Paul Stevens highlighted the burden placed on states.
“The court operates with a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel when it strikes down one of Congress’s most significant efforts to regulate the role that corporations and unions play in electoral politics,” he wrote. “It compounds the offense by implicitly striking down a great many state laws as well.”
For now, the decision does not overturn all the state laws in question, but it is only a matter of time, experts said, before the laws will be challenged in the courts or repealed by state legislatures. Since the state laws are vulnerable, it is unlikely that officials will continue enforcing them, experts said.
Montana is one of the states that will probably be affected. It has one of the nation’s oldest campaign finance laws, approved by voters in 1912 after a copper baron, William A. Clark of Butte, bribed members of the State Legislature to get a United States Senate seat.
Chris Gallus, a former lobbyist and a lawyer who represents business interests in Montana, said his clients would most likely challenge the statute if it were not stricken.
States that can expect to see the biggest and most sudden influx of money are those -- like Ohio and Florida -- where it is relatively expensive to run campaigns and where races are competitive, said Ray La Raja, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He predicted corporate spending would increase in states where control of state governments hangs in the balance.
The ruling left many state lawmakers frustrated and uncertain how to proceed.
“It’s absolutely outrageous and we’ve got to find a way to deal with it,” said Michael E. Gronstal, the Senate majority leader in Iowa, where lawmakers were exploring how they might keep at least some of the restrictions on political expenditures in the current state law.
The decision could also affect pending trials, like that of Mr. DeLay, who was charged in 2005 with criminal violations of state campaign finance laws and money laundering.
“The money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering charges will definitely be undermined,” said Dick DeGuerin, Mr. DeLay’s lawyer. “The reason is that the foundation of the prosecution’s argument is that corporate donations are illegal in any part of the political process, but the Supreme Court just struck that idea down.”
But Carl Bryan Case, the director of the Appellate Division at the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, which is handling Mr. DeLay’s case, disagreed.
“The indictments against Mr. DeLay describe corporate contributions to a political campaign,” he said. “What the Supreme Court addressed was independent expenditures made by third parties on their own and without having to do with campaigns.”
Alan Schneider, the state prosecutor in Grand Traverse County, Mich., said he was concerned about his continuing criminal investigation of Meijer Inc.’s actions in a 2007 recall election. “We’re going to have to shift our focus entirely,” he said.
The court’s decision effectively overturns the section of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act that prohibits corporate financing of candidate campaigns, Mr. Schneider said. Meijer is accused of illegally funneling tens of thousands of dollars to groups to try to depose the township board in Acme Township in a 2007 recall election.
“Unfortunately, we now have to drop the felony charges we were pursuing and only go after the misdemeanors,” he said. “It’s frustrating.”
David Primo, a political science professor at the University of Rochester, counseled caution about predicting the impact of the Supreme Court decision. While it grants corporations and unions new access, it is also likely to spur state officials and campaign reform groups to push for new types of restrictions.
“This tug of war will continue as long as we have fundamental disagreements in the country over the role of money in politics,” he said.
The decision may galvanize reformers to push harder for public financing of elections.
It will also bring new pressure on states to improve their disclosure rules, experts said, since those rules will be one of the only ways left to regulate how corporations and other groups make expenditures in local races.
Joseph Birkenstock, the former chief counsel for the Democratic National Committee now with the law firm Caplin & Drysdale in Washington, said states that previously banned corporate expenditures would begin adapting disclosure rules so that the public can get the same information about corporate political advertisements that is currently available for advertisements paid for by individuals or political action committees.
Richard Hasen, an election law specialist at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said he expected state judicial races to be especially affected by the Supreme Court decision.
In recent years, he said, the states where corporate contributions were permitted saw an explosion in spending in judicial races. With the new ruling, those states and others where such donations were limited or banned are likely to see more money spent on these races.
Between 2000 and 2009, spending on state supreme court races across 22 states that had competitive elections was about $207 million, up from $86 million between 1990 and 2000, according Justice at Stake, at watchdog group that monitors money in court races.
--Dan Frosch and Kitty Bennett contributed reporting.
Week in review
DOES CORPORATE MONEY LEAD TO POLITICAL CORRUPTION?
By David D. Kirkpatrick
New York Times
January 23, 2010
WASHINGTON -- “There are two things that are important in politics,” Mark Hanna, the great Republican kingmaker of the late 19th century, once said. “The first thing is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.”
What was true in Hanna’s century remained true in the next, and since the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, Congress has imposed stricter regulations on money in politics. Advocates of those rules argue that they rein in corruption and increase public trust in government.
But after more than three decades, has the system made a difference?
The question took on new urgency last week as the Supreme Court threw out regulations that prohibited corporations from buying campaign commercials that explicitly advocate the election or defeat of candidates. Democrats called the ruling a threat to democracy; Republicans cheered it as a victory for free speech.
Legal scholars and social scientists say the evidence is meager, at best, that the post-Watergate campaign finance system has accomplished the broad goals its supporters asserted.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy noted in his opinion that no evidence was marshaled in 100,000 pages of legal briefs to show that unrestricted campaign money ever bought a lawmaker’s vote. And even after Congress further tightened the rules with the landmark McCain-Feingold law in 2002, banning hundreds of millions of dollars in unlimited contributions to the political parties, public trust in government fell to new lows, according to polls.
And what about the corporations that contributed so much of that money? A review of the biggest corporate donors found that their stock prices were unaffected after they stopped giving to the parties. The results suggest that those companies did not lose their influence and may have been giving “because they were shaken down by politicians,” said Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Columbia Law School who has studied the law’s impact.
“There is no evidence that stricter campaign finance rules reduce corruption or raise positive assessments of government,” said Kenneth Mayer, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It seems like such an obvious relationship but it has proven impossible to prove.”
It is not merely an academic question. The Supreme Court has consistently said that only fighting corruption or the appearance of corruption justifies laws that restrict political spending. Other rationales -- like leveling the playing field between the haves and have-nots -- are not enough.
Defenders of the rules say their case for tighter restrictions on campaign money is obvious to anyone who knows Washington. Private influence-seekers shower big contributions on politicians because they want to gain access and shape policy; they would not spend the money if they got nothing in return.
But even supporters of the rules acknowledge that the benefits can be hard to measure. “I happen to think the campaign finance laws have done some modest good,” said Richard L. Hasen, an expert on political law at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “How much good? We may soon find out,” he added, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Thursday in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission.
Supporters of the restrictions point to Britain to show that governments can police corruption without imperiling free speech. Britain started regulating political spending as far back as 1883 and has tightened the rules steadily ever since.
Those British restrictions would violate the Supreme Court’s view of the First Amendment, yet Britain’s political debates are as robust as they are in the United States.
Opponents of restrictions, on the other hand, point out that Australia barely regulates political money. Individuals and corporations can give without limit. Parties can spend freely. And there is not much disclosure about who gives what to whom. But political corruption has not threatened a vibrant democracy there.
In the United States, studies comparing states like Virginia with scant regulation against those like Wisconsin with strict rules have not found much difference in levels of corruption or public trust, several scholars said. Jeff Milyo, an economist at the University of Missouri, has compared states with strict bans on corporate contributions to political parties against those with no limits at all. “There is just no good evidence that campaign finance laws have any effect on actual corruption,” he said.
The most insistent advocates of the campaign finance laws argue that the benefits are real even if academics can’t measure them. Fred Wertheimer, the dean of campaign finance “reformers,” pointed to the presidential campaign finance system as the best example of success. For five elections beginning in 1976, the presidential candidates of both major parties took public financing and did not receive private campaign contributions. “You can’t prove a negative,” Mr. Wertheimer said, “but in the Carter and Reagan presidencies there were no news stories about campaign contributions influencing presidential decisions.”
By the 2008 election, however, that system had grown obsolete. Candidates could raise far more from private donors, and President Obama became the first major candidate since Richard M. Nixon to win election without public money.
Polls have shown that relatively few people understand or are even aware of the campaign finance rules. Those who are aware of them usually assume that smart donors will be able to steer around the rules. But Mr. Wertheimer said that a cat-and-mouse game of election rule-makers forever trying to catch up with the latest evasions by big money donors was only natural, “part of the ongoing battle to prevent government corruption.”
But some politicians say reformers like Mr. Wertheimer are unrealistic about how money and politicians mix. They cite an old political maxim, attributed in a more vulgar form to the onetime California kingpin Jesse Unruh: If you can’t take their money and vote against them, you don’t belong in politics.