The Other I

November 26, 2012

Distracted by the facts

I often enjoy discussions and even disputes with people who disagree with me.  What I don’t enjoy are discussions with people whose views seem impervious to the facts.

So it’s a little embarrassing to discover that I have drawn one of those non-negotiable, righteous conclusions without knowing what I was talking about.

I have said more than once that I thought the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court several years ago was one of the most destructive decisions that court has ever handed down, and that I would support a constitutional amendment to get it changed.

I did read that the decision was quite narrow, but I was sure I already knew that it gave the same democratic rights to corporations and big business as it gave to individuals.  Moreover, it gave business the right to donate unlimited funds to political campaigns and thus to fundamentally buy whatever votes they wanted to.

Well, the Citizens United decision doesn’t say that exactly, and repealing it won’t make much difference.   What it does allow is for entities of people to pay to express their views on political issues and in relation to political campaigns.  That means that businesses can publicly and aggressively express their opinions.  So can newspapers, unions, environmental groups, churches, bloggers, Tweeters, and You-tube videos.

In terms of campaign contributions, businesses and corporations are limited by the same $5,000 amounts as individuals.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of ways around this limit for both groups and individuals as the law currently stands.

I don’t think we need a constitutional amendment.  I think what we need is transparency.  Right now it’s way too easy to make anonymous mega-donations to 501(c)s and super-PACs.

Actually, the Disclose Act that came before the last Senate and would have increased transparency dramatically was filibustered.   By the Republicans.

I would be immensely valuable for American democracy if Congress could get it passed.  But I’m not hopeful.  The Republicans can still filibuster it.



  1. Elizabeth Warren, the new senator from Massachusetts, is putting forward a bill to require that members who want to filibuster actually appear and remain on the floor of the Senate to do so. This would mean their views would be covered in the press much more than they are now, when only one senator need send word that he intends to filibuster a bill in order for that bill to need 60 votes to pass. More press coverage will mean a better informed public and more reticence on the part of the filibusterers to look like shills for their corporate or wingnut supporters and, hopefully, more good legislation getting passed by a simple majority, as it should.

    The problem is, Democrats don’t want to change the current way things work any more than Republicans do because they make use of the same filibuster threat when it serves their purposes.

    Having said that, I supported Senator Warren actively (though I live in a different, more backward state) and I suspect she’s too smart and has too much integrity to just be grandstanding with this proposal.

    I agree with you about transparency for super-PAC donations, Terry. That would probably be enough, especially after this last election, when everyone thought Republican money must make the difference.


    Comment by pianomusicman — November 26, 2012 @ 4:30 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for this, Tom. I share your assessment about Warren, but I didn’t know about her bill. And I had no idea that merely a show of intent and not an actual filibustes is required. In a distant memory from my childhood, I seem to remember reports about senators holding their own for hours, reading things like poetry and novels and I think even a Seers & Roebuck catalogue (though that might have been an exaggeration) in order to hold the floor. But maybe that was a strategy to prevent a vote which they would lose from being called at all.

      It is interesting that even unlimited money couldn’t buy Romney the White House, isn’t it? Karl Rove apparently said it was because of Sandy, which was an act of God. In which case, I guess God wanted Obama.

      Speaking of acts of God, we’re having mega-floods over here right now. Not as bad as Sandy, but the worst nationwide for a century. There are more than 500 flood alerts out for overnight tonight. Terry


      Comment by Terry Sissons — November 26, 2012 @ 9:34 pm | Reply

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