Not very much, the left-leaning New York Times Magazine says.
Oh, spending is certainly up. Both parties could spend as much as $1 billion each in the presidential race alone.
“The reason for this exponential leap in political spending, if you talk to most Democrats or read most news reports, comes down to two words: Citizens United,” the magazine says. “The term is shorthand for a Supreme Court decision that gave corporations much of the same right to political speech as individuals have, thus removing virtually any restriction on corporate money in politics. The oft-repeated narrative of 2012 goes like this: Citizens United unleashed a torrent of money from businesses and the multimillionaires who run them, and as a result we are now seeing the corporate takeover of American politics.”
That’s a politically useful narrative, but it’s not particularly accurate. The “wealthy” and corporations have always been able to participate in the political process, through “527” groups.
“So under the old rules, the Club for Growth couldn’t broadcast an ad that said ‘Vote Against Barack Obama,’ but it could spend that money on as many ads as it wanted that said ‘Barack Obama has ruined America — call and tell him to stop!’ as long as it did so more than 60 days before an election,” the magazine explains.
“Legally speaking, zillionaires were no less able to write fat checks four years ago than they are today,” the magazine notes. “And while it is true that corporations can now give money for specific purposes that were prohibited before, it seems they aren’t, or at least not at a level that accounts for anything like the sudden influx of money into the system.”
No, the money coming into the races right now is more due to the high stakes of the November election, rather than the Citizens United decision.
And the left is taking just as much advantage of the decision as the right is.
“U.S. labor-union leaders are taking advantage of a Supreme Court ruling they are fighting to overturn in their drive to elect Democrats this year,” Businessweek reported recently. “The AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation, will send more than 400,000 volunteers to campaign for President Barack Obama, aided by a decision known as Citizens United that removed limits on independent spending by corporations and unions.”
That news agency explains, “Before the 2010 ruling, labor unions were able to make donations only through regulated political action committees, which collect voluntary donations from employees and have reporting requirements and limits on disbursements. The decision lets unions spend from their treasuries, taking restrictions off using member dues in political campaigns.”
The left has worried that the Citizens United would corrupt the political process beyond redemption. That’s not only a misreading of history (politics has always been corrupt) but also a misreading of the decision itself, as the New York Times Magazine is now acknowledging.
Citizens United simply reaffirms the freedom of speech. That’s why efforts to roll back the decision are misguided.
The right response to speech we don’t agree with is more speech, not less. Sure, it’s going to get loud. It’s going to get a bit rough-and-tumble at times. That’s better than the alternative of government (and inevitably, politicians) deciding what we can say, when we can say it, and who we can say it to.