Coming Soon to a Television Near You: Impacts of a Supreme Court Ruling

Yesterday’s Washington Post detailed the mounting efforts of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to influence this year’s mid-term congressional elections. The Post explains:

The group plans to target vulnerable Democrats in up to two dozen states with ads, get-out-the-vote operations and other grass-roots efforts. The Chamber’s overall budget is expected to reach $200 million, or twice what it spent in 2008; the group declined to say how much of that will go to political activities.

The strategy follows the Chamber’s record lobbying effort at the end of 2009, when it spent nearly $800,000 a day rallying opposition to Democratic proposals in Congress. All told, the organization spent more money on political activities last year than either the Democratic National Committee or the Republican National Committee, which serve as the main fundraising and grass-roots operations for the parties.

Given the enormous impact of the Chamber last year, now consider this next observation by the Post:

The Chamber’s potential impact on the November elections was bolstered further by a recent Supreme Court decision, which allows corporations and their surrogates to spend freely on political ads for and against specific candidates right up to Election Day.…

One early example of [the group’s] influence came in January, when the Chamber spent $1 million on ads to help Republican Scott P. Brown win a hotly contested special senatorial election in Democratic-leaning Massachusetts. The group praised Brown as a candidate who “empowers business, not politicians,” and hailed his Jan. 19 victory.

Brown was initially scheduled to be sworn in Feb. 11, but the Chamber joined GOP leaders in pushing the date a week earlier. The change allowed Brown to take office just in time to cast a decisive vote against Craig Becker, a pro-union nominee to the National Labor Relations Board whom the Chamber strongly opposed.

So, to summarize, even before the Supreme Court’s devastating January 21st ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the Court invalidated a century of regulations limiting the amount of money corporations could spend to influence elections,  the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which is a non-profit corporation that represents, and is largely funded by, for-profit corporations) was capable of outspending both the DNC and the RNC on political activities.  As the article suggests, the Chamber also wielded sufficient power and influence to help get Sen. Brown get elected and seated in time to prevent a pro-union nominee from being seated on the NLRB – the federal agency that oversees union elections and investigates unfair labor practices.

With Citizens United, such power and influence will mushroom.  The Chamber appears open and unabashed about its plan to spend unprecedented sums to replace incumbent Democrats with candidates who (as the Chamber itself put it) “empower business.”  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the effects of such spending will likely be many, many more stories like the one about Scott Brown, who, upon arriving in Washington, swiftly cast a vote that protected the interests of the corporations that supported his election.

Americans across the political spectrum have loudly expressed their opposition to Citizens United.  Such rare consensus starkly illustrates the need for more judges who will respect constitutional text and history, and who understand that our Nation’s charter was written  to protect and serve “We the People” – not “We the Corporations.”


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