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.