Citizens United and McCutcheon: What You and I Can Do to Make It Right
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court poured another tanker truck of gasoline on the already disastrous conflagration known as Citizens United. In McCutcheon v. the FEC, the 5-4 decision once again affirms the earlier decision that money is speech, but this pronouncement goes a bit further by providing for any wealthy individual to influence unlimited numbers of political characters rather than follow earlier law (1974) limiting the number of candidates to whom one could give money as well as capping the amount given to each.
In other words, to Mitt Romney’s famous, “Corporations are people too, my friend,” he could add “and wealthy individuals can be unshackled lobbyists, my friend.”
According to On the Media, the McCutcheon decision raises the limits able to be spent by an individual for individual donations from $123,000 to $3.6 million – or nearly 30 times the amount limited by earlier campaign finance laws of 1974.
Shaun McCutcheon is a conservative businessman from the state of Alabama who enjoys giving money to his favorite political candidates and committees. His suit, supported by the Republican National Committee, argued that his right to free speech was unfairly and illegally constrained by the FEC’s Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974 – the result of concerns raised initially during the Watergate scandal and a Congressional attempt to halt the possible corruptive influence of money in politics.
The Roberts Court and the usual suspect judges merged around the previous Citizens United argument that money is speech and speech must remain free and without constriction.
Stock Tip: Citizens United has proven a huge monetary boon to the corporate media in 2012. According to Take Part, “Nearly $6 billion was spent during the record-breaking 2012 election cycle…” Indeed, nearly $1 billion of that money was from donations made privately by anonymous contributors.
Reporter Meredith McGehee from Commonblog notes that CBS Chief Executive Officer Les Moonves reported CBS profits will climb $180 million this year due to political advertising. “’Super PACS may be bad for America,’ Moonves said, ‘but they’re very good for CBS.’”
As we roll into 2014, the McCutcheon decision will likewise boost eaernings; moreover, the amounts of cash headed to major affiliates in 2016 may become absolutely mind-boggling. CBS may be trading a bit down this week and last, but just wait until late summer and early fall.
If there is an answer to this judicial scandal and our national dilemma, some method to at least shed some light on all this dark money, the solution may exist in the very words of the decision makers on the Supreme Court and the most unlikely and least exertive commission in Washington.
Within the 30 page majority opinion paper by Justice Kennedy in the Citizens United case is the sentence, “Disclosure is the less-restrictive alternative to more comprehensive speech regulations.” In other words, money may be used to influence, but those who influence can and should be identified.
Michael J. Copps, former head of the Federal Communication Commission is quick to support disclosure as an important and immediate answer to Citizens United and, now, McCutcheon. And he reminds us and anyone else willing to listen – the law is already there to do this. It just needs be enforced.
Section 317 of the Federal Communications Act (47 USC § 317) requires identification of any on-air commercial – political or otherwise. Any advertisement – even one with Diane Rauner in a blue house dress promising she is a Democrat – must also “fully and fairly disclose the true identity of the person or persons, or corporation, or committee, association or other unincorporated group, or other entity” paying for them.
Copps asserts, “If a special interest group calling itself Citizens for Purple Mountain Majesty and Amber Waves of Grain is a front group for a chemical company refusing to clean up a toxic dump or an energy company looking to buy friendships on Capitol Hill, the law says we need to know that.”
All that is necessary is the enforcement of a legal statute already on the books. So, how does this happen? Mr. Copps explains that such enforcement could take place in 90 days or less if necessary. It just takes some push by people interested in forcing the FCC to do something about it. And no time is better than right now.
Recently Obama appointed venture capitalist Tom Wheeler, whom Obama dubbed the “Bo Jackson” of the communication world as leader of the FCC. Recent decisions indicate a leader of the FCC interested in assisting internet providers with increasing fees. Another appointee, Michael O’Rielly is a former Republican Senate staffer. But Common Cause has been supportive in hoping these two new commissioners will invigorate the Commission to do more than rubber stamp communication industry transactions. Perhaps we can assist in this?
Maybe you’d like to consider contacting the members of the FCC to request they put some teeth back into a law that has remained silently on the books. You can bet that the Koch brothers and everyone else at Purple Mountain Majesty will provide a not-so-gentle downpour of lawyers and arguments, but the Supreme Court has already indicated the direction for disclosure as acceptable. Let’s get started now.
Email and phone your Senator or Representative now. Contact the current members of the FCC and ask them to grow some fortitude and put the law 317 into effect before November 2014, and certainly before 2016.
Email to Tom Wheeler, Chairman FCC:
Email to Mignon Clyburn, Commissioner FCC: http://www.fcc.gov/leadership/mignon-clyburn-mail
Email to Jessica Rosenworcel, Commissioner FCC:
Email Ajit Pai, Commissioner FCC:
Email Michael O’Rielly, Commissioner FCC:
Even as a very young reader, I knew something was dreadfully wrong with Alice in Lewis Carroll’s book about falling through the looking glass.
Chief among them was the lack of struggle Alice seemed to have in drinking an unidentified liqueur or in snacking on a small morsel of obviously tainted bread. In each case, these offerings included invitations to imbibe or snack.
Quite honestly, as a kid I ate most everything I found – even while hiking with other kids in landfills, but we knew better to ingest anything marked “eat me.” And we’d have smashed any bottle inscribed with “drink me.” Even in my dreams, I was never so compliant.
Not so today. In America, we swallow almost anything anyone gives us. Especially not-so-subtle electronic messages from cloaked and shadowy characters who promote political candidates. And, like in Alice, we don’t know who they are and - thanks to the Supreme Court - how much they’re giving to promote the candidate. Let’s start enforcing Rule 317 in the FCC code of laws. Make the call.