Feingold in Oz: How Citizen's United Contributed to his Defeat

Graphic by CTRAFFIK (bio, email), a Miami hip hop artist. from his June 2007 post  in response to the Military Commissions Act. (Term for R's expurgated by moi to avoid the kiddy curse-filter at public libraries.)

The following essay, commissioned by The Guardian, has been updated to include the edits to match  the version  published  there on 11/10 as  "The Murky Business of Electioneering." You can  review it at NewsTrust.


The Wizard of Oz enjoined us in the 1939 classic, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." I thought of the wizard on election day, as I read David Brooks's piece "Don't Follow the Money", while watching Wisconsin's Democratic Senator Russ Feingold go down to defeat.

Brooks said we should pay no attention: corporations can't buy elections, despite the supreme court's Citizens United decision, which gave them the same constitutional rights to free speech as individual citizens – striking down a provision of the McCain-Feingold Act on campaign finance reform that barred businesses from funding electioneering advertising. He'd have us believe:
[D]onors give money because it makes them feel as if they are doing good and because they get to hang out at exclusive parties.
Yet, according to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation, 40% of the money in the 2010 could be tied to Citizens United. And while the court ruled eight to one that disclosure could be required (Justice Clarence Thomas being the only outlier), groups organised primarily for "social welfare" under Section 501c(4) of the tax code currently can promise anonymity to their funders.

Again, according to Sunlight:
$126m in undisclosed money represents more than a quarter of the total $450m spent by outside groups… By a nearly six to one margin Republicans outspent the Democrats among groups that failed to disclose the source of their money.
Are such c(4)s really social welfare groups or are they primarily political groups, which would trigger disclosure?

Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies – formed in July 2010 with help from GOP guru Karl Rove – reportedly forecasted spending $65m, much of it in an effort to defeat [Senate majority leader] Harry Reid. Also questionable: American Future Fund. A 20 October complaint charges that it has
devoted more than half its advertising spending this year – approximately $3m as of a few days ago – on television ads that expressly call on voters to vote for or against particular candidates.
Other dubious groups include the American Action Network (with which Crossroads GPS shares an office), Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Job Security, the Chamber of Commerce, and Justice Thomas's wife Ginni's new group, Liberty Central.

So, why don't the (c)4s have to report donors?
The IRS relies on precedent set under the 1958 supreme court decision NAACP v AlabamaCampaign Legal Centre's Trevor Potter wrote me that this case should only be germane,
IF the groups can make the arguments made by the NAACP – that their donors would be killed or beaten or their houses burned down if their identities were known.
In the case of Russ Feingold, $192,120 came in from committees to support his election and $33,232 to oppose the eventual winner, Republican Ron Johnson. Contrast this with $935,844 to support Johnson and a whopping $1,319,737 to oppose Feingold – of which $910,000 came from American Action Network, whose donors are undisclosed. Ruth Conniff, political editor for the Progressive, wrote me:
In Wisconsin we were the recipients of an overwhelming barrage of advertising – much of it from groups outside our state who tarred Russ Feingold with the same brush they used against every other Democrat – never mind that he opposed bank bailouts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and government overreaching, especially in the Patriot Act.

You couldn't  turn on the television or radio, go to the mailbox, answer the phone, or even watch old Sesame Street episodes on YouTube without being bombarded by political attack ads.

The repetition of catchphrases concocted in Washington thinktanks drowned out thought and discussion of real issues, and ultimately sent an inexperienced rich guy with no specific plan to Washington to replace a senior senator who was one of the lone independent voices in the US Senate.
Given the Citizens United decision, supreme court reporter Lyle Denniston suggested we could increase transparency
by more rigorous disclosure legislation, in hopes of exposing more vividly who is in fact benefiting and, perhaps, by embarrassing the beneficiaries.

In Congress, the House passed the DISCLOSE Act, (HR 5175). Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has favoured disclosure for 20 years, but led efforts to block a vote, most recently on 24 September.

Is this how we want to run our elections? Congress should let us pay attention to who's behind the curtain. If corporations are to have free speech, let's at least know whose money is talking.