The Unions Could Have Won the Recall If the Other Side Hadn't Talked So Much

The Washington Post's Greg Sargent blames the failure to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the 2010 decision in which the Supreme Court lifted restrictions on independent spending in election campaigns. Sargent calls yesterday's election results "a major wake-up call for the left, Democrats, and unions about the true nature of the new, post-Citizens United political landscape." Citizens United, you see, "empowered opponents of organized labor," allowing "outside groups" to spend heavily on ads supporting Walker. (Although the case dealt with federal restrictions, its First Amendment logic forced states to loosen their rules as well.) Sargent quotes an American Federation of Teachers official, who says, "It's pretty clear that the voices of ordinary citizens are at permanent risk of being drowned out by uninhibited corporate spending."

One crucial fact that goes unmentioned in the 488-word post: Citizens United not only "empowered opponents of organized labor"; it empowered organized labor, overturning longstanding restrictions on political speech by unions. And as I noted in the December 2010 issue of Reason, unions quickly took advantage of their new freedom:

As Mother Jones reporter Suzy Khimm pointed out in June, unions were the first organizations to take advantage of Citizens United, running express advocacy ads during primary campaigns in Arkansas and Pennsylvania. In a listing of the biggest independent spenders compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics in September, unions were three of the top five; the other two were the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. 

Furthermore, Citizens United ungagged all sorts of corporations—not just big businesses but nonprofit advocacy groups of every interest and ideology. Arguing that greater freedom of speech is bad because your side lost an election is the rankest partisanship.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...allowing "outside groups" to spend heavily on ads supporting Walker.

    What qualifies a group as inside?

  • The Hammer||

    Unquestioning support for Team Blue, of course.

  • ||

    The one that is inside you.

  • ||

    There is no spoon.

  • ||

    You think that's air you're breathing now?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Fuck no. I'm inhaling greenhouse gasses because the KORPORASSHHHHUUUNNNNS are poisoning me and Mother Gaia.

  • Pippers||

    Company headquartered within the state, or person living within the state.

  • thom||

    How about a company headquartered in another state that has significant in-state operations?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Not unions, media fanboys, or the Democratic party. Or Bill Clinton.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    So, Team Blue never uses "outside groups".

    Got it.

    Boy, that's a relief.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    If we could have just sent guys with guns in to shut up the people we disagree with, Democracy could have prevailed!

  • JW||

    I thought *was* how democracy worked.

    Don't tell me you're going to start up that "One man, one vote" nonsense. That sort of outmoded thinking only gets my political opponents elected.

  • Restoras||

    It's only fair when they win.

  • ||

    Can we please get in front of this already? Let's start listing losing candidates for office from both parties that spent big money. Then its copypasta from there.

  • BarryD||

    "copypasta" is that Italian for something?

  • ||

  • BarryD||

    Thank you.

  • mr simple||

    The only person I can think of is Meg Whitman and that's because someone mentioned her earlier today. That's the problem with losing an election, no one remembers your name.

  • ||

    Why would a typical for-profit Corporation even give two shits about Public Sector Unions? Aren't most of bargaining labor laws specific to them and not to Unions in general?

  • Pippers||

    Correct, but Walker is a Corporatist as well. You know the deal, rub my back, I rub yours.

  • BarryD||

    Barrett isn't?

  • John||

    The Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain (AZ), received $84.1 million in public funds to conduct his general election campaign and raised an additional $46.4 million for legal and accounting expenses.The Democratic presidential nominee, then-Sen. Barack Obama (IL), raised a total of $745.7 million in private funds for his primary nomination and general election campaign. It was the first time in the history of presidential public financing that a major party nominee declined to accept public funds for the general election.

    http://www.fec.gov/press/press.....Stat.shtml

    Gee I don't recall the Post or Mother Jones being too upset about one side spending nearly ten times as much money as the other in 2008. Funny that.

  • ||

    It's only corporatism and evil when the Koch's are involved.

  • BarryD||

    You know, we should concoct fictitious billionaire heiresses, like the Waschina Twins, and spread rumors of their trying to influence politics all around the dumber regions of the leftosphere. Just 'cuz.

  • Killazontherun||

    Arguing that greater freedom of speech is bad because your side lost an election is the rankest partisanship.

    It is also admitting that their advocacy is such a bad deal their opponents have to be crippled to even the playing the field.

  • Bee Tagger||

    Why did Walker lose? Because of Citizens United.
    Why is Citizens United bad? Because look what it does to democracy, case in point the Walker recall election.

    I'm not even sure Angel could penetrate that circular logic of the black thorn.

  • John||

    But remember. Obama spending $745 million to McCain's $130 was hope change, historic, democracy in action. You couldn't make these people up.

  • ||

    Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning.

    Wherever you go, there you are.

  • John||

    We didn't lose. We were stabbed in the back!!

  • ||

    The way people abuse language for political ends is endlessly fascinating, isn't it? It's no coincidence that Orwell and George Carlin both made careers out of talking about it.

  • John||

    Language is thought. And they torture the language because they are torturing their thought.

  • ||

    Funny you mention that Warty. Take my "A"numero uno now-dog whistle, "access". You'd think the people who argue most for the bastardized understanding of that term would argue most for the free political speech that CU upholds, putting aside that pesky, mouldy old document for a moment.

  • ||

    You moron, "access" means to give me free shit. Or else.

  • ||

    Of course Warty, how silly of me. Explain "racist" now, imbecile.

  • ||

    "Racist" means you. You fucking racist scum.

  • ||

    Yes, Warty, that's much better now.

  • John||

    And "fairness" There is another term they have wiped their asses with.

    Last I heard a fair is what you take a hog to.

  • ||

    A bear there was
    A bear, a bear
    All black and brown
    And covered with hair
    Oh come they said
    Oh come to the fair
    The fair? said he
    But I'm a bear
    All black and brown
    And covered in hair

  • Ska||

    Did you already do the Rains of Castamere?

  • ||

    Probably.

    (Up yours, spam filter)

  • Mo' $parky||

    Last I heard a fair is what you take a hog to.

    That's no way to talk about your wife, John. I'm sure she doesn't deserve that.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Awwwww snap!!!

  • John||

    Really Mo?

  • Mo' $parky||

    Oh come on John, I'm just teasing. No need to get your panties in a bunch. Besides, you know sarcasmic would have something if he had caught that.

  • John||

    I know you were. Mo. That is why I just said Really. I had no other response.

  • mr simple||

    I'm pretty sure fair means the ball landed between the lines that run from home plate through first and third bases, respectively, and extend to the edge of the field. That means the ball is in play.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Say, I have a question. Do the Germans accept now that they lost WWI? I assume they admit to losing WWII.

  • John||

    Yes. They do. What is interesting is that no only do they accept losing both they claim now to be equal victims of both.

  • Pro Libertate||

    So when they start the next world war, it's going to be to exterminate the Jews again, to eliminate any victim competition?

  • Mo' $parky||

    "We didn't lose WWII, it was a tie!"

  • Auric Demonocles||

    We didn't lose WWII, it was a tie!

    Are Americans learning German or are Germans learning English?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Not only are they learning English, they're learning American English.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Do the Germans accept now that they lost WWI?

    Only because of outside groups.

  • ||

    Is it just me, or do these lefty, pinko, proggie types really, really, hate Citizen's Untied?

    Sheesh! You'd think all Seven Seals were broken, The Guff of Souls was empty, and a certain R.E.M. is on continuous loop. All while kittens and baby seals are being brained en masse and Brit large.

  • John||

    Secretly they love Citizen's United. It saves them from facing the harsh reality that they and their ideas are really unpopular and stupid.

  • Bee Tagger||

    Yes. Lawrence ODonnell got it wrong. Obama wasn't the big winner, the "Blame Citizens United" meme was.

  • JW||

    Now, that's a party.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    It's their version of Roe vs Wade. And as much as the Republicans have been trying to cash that judicial check for the last 40 years, the Democrats are going to do the same.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Except the GOP hasn't been performing abortions in the interim, while BO and his allies (and the unions in this WI election) are taking full advantage of CU.

  • fried wylie||

    New solution: ban all campaign spending. During election season, all communication outlets will be barred from airing any sort of advertisement. Display of any signage supporting/opposing anything will result in a facestomping. Oh, and anyone trying to vote about anything will be shot. Anyone claiming an elected office after non-election day will be shot twice.

    Better yet, just launch teh newks and let's bring this bullshit to a quick end.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    You can't shut down MSNBC and the New York Times though. They are paragons of reality based, hard hitting, objective journalism. Plus they are the "press", so the first amendment totally applies to them, unlike Feaux News which is just a Koch/Haliburton propaganda outlet.

  • albo||

    Giant media corporations operate out of altrusim and with a sense of fair play for all. So they should be the only corporations to have free political speech around election time.

    To argue otherwise is merely facile bleating of Rethuglican Bushbots.

  • JW||

    Citizens United, you see, "empowered opponents of organized labor," allowing "outside groups" to spend heavily on ads supporting Walker.

    Huh. I could have sworn that Citizens United should have "empowered supporters of organized labor" and allowed "outside groups" to spend heavily on ads supporting Barrett.

    I guess I never knew that CU was magical.

  • rac||

    Everyone focuses on Walker's recall election, but they ignore important steps taken by voters, in BLUE states, to reign in "public" "service" unions.

  • rac||

  • Keith3D||

    On CNN last night they were talking about how the republicans won by getting their base out and outspending democrats. Translation: the religious lunatic fringe bought the election.

    The argument isn't about the philosophical meaning of citizen's united or democracy, it's all about getting people to donate money to obama and democrats for 2012.

    Arguing with these people on the merits of their statements is pointless, it's just spin.

  • Tuna||

    Here’s what the supporters of Citizens United don’t understand: if you have a sole proprietorship, you should have freedom of speech. If you have a partnership, you should have freedom of speech. The second you decide to incorporate (even if your corporation only has assets of $10), you lose freedom of speech. How can anyone not understand that?

    Oh, and banning books is ok, if the books come from corporations. And that doesn't violate the 1st Amendment.

    Again, how can anyone not understand all of this? There is too much speech going on out there. Too much speech is bad. Oh, it's not me that I'm worried about. *I* am not swayed by too much speech, because I'm smart and sophisticated. It's the rubes out there who are too stupid to know what to believe. It's those people who should be protected from too much speech. They can't handle it. Too easily swayed. The great unwashed are stupid. They'll be influenced the "wrong" way if corporations are allowed to have free speech!

    After all, corporate speech is evil. We can have too much speech. Too much speech is bad. Voters aren't smart enough to separate fact from fiction. They're too easily led by those evil corporations. Come to think of it, since people are too stupid (again, not me, as I am not influenced by evil corporations), we should take away their franchise. Let's have rule by elites.

    Any questions?

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Secretly, both Teams hate dissent, because they believe they are above derision and scorn because They Won Elections, and Fuck You, That's Why.

    Also, fried chicken.

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    KOCHPORASHUHNSZ AREN'T TEH PEOPLEZ!!11!

    Also, Soylent Green™, which IS people.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Tuna,

    Nice tongue-in-cheek piece.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    Ya, well balanced with a nice finish.

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    Last - "Walker! You resilient BASTARD!"

    /John Lithgow in "Cliffhanger" (guilty pleasure of a flick)

  • KDN||

    Speaking of John Lithgow in guilty pleasure flicks, my old man stumbled onto Ricochet on sunday and refused to change the channel. It's just so full of plot holes, bad dialogue, and late 80's blood spatter that a good time was unexpectedly had by all.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement