So Much For Corporations Buying Elections


Ever since the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that political spending, even by corporations, is protected free speech Democrats have been in an uproar as A. Barton Hinkle notes in his Reason column today:

The ruling, fumed President Obama, “strikes at democracy itself.” Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine—Virginia’s former governor—termed it “a major victory for oil companies, banks, health insurance companies and other special interests.” Others called the ruling a “constitutional Frankenstein moment,” a “corporate takeover,” “radical,” “absurd,” and “terrifying.” On MSNBC, Keith Olbermann declared the ruling worse than the 19th-century Dred Scott decision upholding slavery. It was, he intoned, a “Supreme-Court-sanctioned murder of . . . democracy.” A writer for the Huffington Post declared, “We are all royally, hopelessly [expletived] for the rest of recorded time.”

And then there was The Times, which insisted the Court had “paved the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections…. Congress must act immediately to limit the damage of this radical decision, which strikes at the heart of democracy.” Other liberals, from John Kerry and Ralph Nader to Nancy Pelosi and the Occupy movement, agreed the Bill of Rights needed to be rolled back to stem the terrible flood of political speech.

We also heard countless Democrat candidates complain about the outside, independent spending opposing them and supporting their opponents. Here in North Dakota, as one example, Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp and her supporters complained until they were red in the face about spending by Crossroads GPS (Karl Rove’s PAC) opposing her candidacy and supporting Rick Berg.

But was all the Democrat hysteria over this spending really justified? It sure doesn’t seem that way, for all the good that spending did:

New York’s paper of record was writing about the colossal failure of deep-pocket donors to swing any weight in last week’s election: “American Crossroads, the super PAC founded by Karl Rove, spent $104 million in the general election, but none of its candidates won. The United States Chamber of Commerce spent $24 million backing Republicans in 15 Senate races; only two of them won. Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul, spent $53 million on nine Republican candidates, eight of whom lost.” It was indeed, as the editorial noted, “A Landslide Loss for Big Money.”

This certainly is not the outcome the newspaper foresaw two years ago, when the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Citizens United.

People make far too much of the influence of money in politics. Yes, the more money a campaign has the better chance it has of reaching and convincing people with its message. But this idea of “buying” elections is a bit overwrought, especially when it comes to independent expenditures.

If I want to spend my money on producing advertising or other sorts of media supporting or opposing a political candidate or issue, that’s my right as a free citizen. If a corporation, an organization of people, wants to spend its money in similar ways, that should also be protected under the same rights.

Corporations, after all, really are people. Organizations of people who don’t lose their rights simply because they’ve organized.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • HG

    Liberals don’t mind a bit if organized labor (unions) contribute exclusively to democrat candidates.
    I don’t have a problem with individuals speaking up organized or unorganized. The problem with it is the influence and access it purchases. Even though many are represented by the organization, it is the heads of these organizations that gain access and influence with politicians. Also, more often than not, those organized may or may not support the candidate the organization contributes to.
    I’m of the opinion that organizations should be limited in their involvement and contributions. I prefer a system that elevates the involvement of individuals above that of organizations.

    • WOOF

      Unions are democracies. One man, one vote.
      Corporations are a whole different kettle of shares.

      • Rob

        Not really. They’re organized different, but shareholders have rights and votes within the organization, and there is a governing body, not all that unlike unions.

        The real difference, for you, is that unions promote left-wing politics and corporations don’t.

        • HG

          As it pertains to this thread, there is little to no difference at all between the two. Both make contributions and subsequently posses access and influence with politicians that individuals do not. That is what makes contributions by organizations so troubling.

        • HG

          Take Univision for instance:

          Univision has its own PAC and contributed nicely to democrat candidates.

          And low and behold:

          This happens in both political parties. It is the reason I support only direct individual contributions.
          It is pure unjust partiality, nothing less.

        • WOOF

          Shares are property, owned by other corporations, mutual funds, insurance companies.FOREIGN nationals, FOREIGN governments, pension funds, trusts. They are not people, they are property. They stifle the voices of share owners .

      • HG

        That in now way changes or challenges anything I said.

  • yy4u2

    Rove backs people he thinks are electable by a large swath of people based off poll after poll after poll. Here’s a thought, back someone that knows what’s right instead of being able to say what’s right. From a recent Thomas Sowell article, “If non-white voters can only be gotten by pandering to them with goodies
    earmarked for them, then Republicans are doomed, even if they choose to go that
    route. Why should anyone who wants racially earmarked goodies vote for
    Republicans, when the Democrats already have a track record of delivering such

  • HG

    Another problem are these “bundlers”. The access and influence they purchase is undemocratic and in many cases downright unethical.

  • WOOF

    Loads of money backed the Romney horse.
    At the start of the race he ran right, falling behind.
    He stopped at the rail to fill his saddlebags with loot and

    whisper to his backers that the other horse had only moochers
    and layabouts backing him.

    Realizing he was falling behind, he turned left towards the finish line.
    He started gaining from behind then came up lame.
    Bad trainers , bad backers, bad overconfident horse.

    • Hannitized, Proofs obsession

      Having a terrible platform and candidate is no reflection on the incredible deep pockets that donated to The Romney Camp. They fell flat on their face despite the cash advantages.

    • banjo kid

      and 75% of the democrat votes came from food stamp recipients. Obama has the entire US treasury at his call.

  • bubba

    rob, remember corporations exist because the government allows them to exist. a corporations shareholders enjoy protection from liability for acts that, if done individually or as a group of unincorporated individuals, would not be protected. that’s part of the trade off, in exchange for liability protection not afforded the individual, a corporation makes an agreement with the state to forfeit certain rights that would otherwise belong to unincorporated individuals, pay corporatetaxes (until wyoming gave us the llc), and abide by state statutes regulating corporate behavior. this isn’t a justification for granting or denying personhood rights beyond the legal “person” of a corp (sign contracts, respond to summons, through agents,etc),just that corporations and similar limited liability entities enjoy special protection from and by virtue of grant from the government inexchange for forfeiture of rights that would otherwise belong to individual shareholders. I really think you should explain this to your readers. the implication is clear.

    • HG

      Excellent point.

    • HG

      Corporations and unions already are prohibited from spending directly to candidates. The can give to pac’s or spend independently of a candidate. I’d like to see limits set on pac’s to make them all but irrelevant. I wonder how the DNC and RNC get around the contribution restrictions set on corporations? They ought to be limited as well. One way to get the electorate more engaged is to give us the sense that every individual matters in every election, fed, state, and local. Could you imagine the integrity that would replace the cronyism if corporations, unions, and bundlers weren’t repaid with political favors, influence, access, and positions? Or, if a candidate didn’t owed his political allegiance to individuals and not to a national party committee?

      • HG

        strike “didn’t” in that last sentence