Obama Bemoans the Stampede While Juicing Up His Cattle Prod


Yesterday President Obama called Citizens United "a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics" and "a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans." Since Obama is one of the main people spurring the stampede and facilitating the drowning out, you have to give him points for chutzpah, especially since these comments come less than a week after he blatantly pandered to one of those powerful interests by cutting a deal with the labor unions that objected to his proposed tax on "Cadillac" medical benefits, in the midst of a much-ballyhooed spending binge that has stimulated lobbying more than the economy, and while he is trying to salvage a health care plan that has garnered much support from powerful special interests (including those nasty insurance companies), who have outspent opponents on advertising by 5 to 1.

The quote about "the voices of ordinary Americans" appears in the main New York Times story about Citizens United right after reporter Adam Liptak notes that "the decision will be felt most immediately in the coming midterm elections, given that it comes just two days after Democrats lost a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and as popular discontent over government bailouts and corporate bonuses continues to boil." In other words, the Supreme Court's decision is expected to help interest groups communicate the public's discontent about the health care legislation and corporate bailouts (of "Wall Street banks" as well as automakers) that Obama enthusiastically supported. It seems like greater respect for freedom of speech, crazy as it sounds, might actually amplify "the voices of everyday Americans."

A companion story on the same page of the Times suggests that lobbyists will threaten to run ads against legislators to extract favors from them:

The ruling comes at a time when influence-seekers of all kinds have special incentives to open their wallets. Amid the economic crisis, the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats are trying to rewrite the rules for broad swaths of the economy, from Detroit to Wall Street. Republicans, meanwhile, see a chance for major gains in November.

Democrats predicted that Republicans would benefit most from the decision, because they are the traditional allies of big corporations, who have more money to spend than unions.

Yet the Democrats are the ones who control Congress and the White House, and they are the ones "trying to rewrite the rules for broad swaths of the economy." Might they not stand to benefit from business-funded ads supporting their re-election if only they are willing to carve out certain exceptions or offer certain subsidies? More to the point, aren't they the ones who are inviting a horde of lobbyists to descend upon Washington by aggressively expanding the size and scope of government?

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  1. Obama raised $600 million dollars for his Presidential campaign mostly off the internet. He still to my knowledge has never released or made any attempt to verify where this money came from.

    On one level I don’t care. I don’t think we should have any campaign finance laws and if he wants to raise money that way, fine. But for him to now whine about this decision and the evils of money in politics after he turned down public financing and raised the kind of money he did, brings shamelessness to a whole new Obamasiah level.

    1. On that one I disagree John, especially since Obummer claimed his admistration would be the most transparent in history with unprecedented levels of disclosure and accountability.

      I think it is very germane for politicians to disclose who is donating to their campaigns, identifying conflict of interests and essentially matching up their rhetoric v. whose trying to buy undue influence.

    2. My take on disclosure is this:

      Contributions directly to a candidate’s campaign should be disclosed.

      “Independent” expenditures (I know, I know, pitifully easy to circumvent independence requirements) can be anonymous.

    3. Goldberg: Where’s Obama’s Populist Outrage Over Conan’s $45M deal?


  2. More to the point, aren’t they the ones who are inviting a horde of lobbyists to descend upon Washington by aggressively expanding the size and scope of government?

    This is a facepalm of the entire debate. Somehow, it’s wrong to try to influence elections, but it’s okay to directly influence the politicians once they’re in office.

  3. If only the Democrats hadn’t overreached, they would be in a position to benefit nicely from the ruling. But instead, they blew it and they won’t have the power they need to extort ads from threatened industries.

  4. The ones to watch will be the advocates of an anti-corporate-speech constitutional amendment. If many people are still talking about that idea months from now, it will mean the “liberal” left has officially, completely abandoned the First Amendment.

  5. Huh? What’s Obama gonna do with that cattle prod again?

    1. Bend over and he’ll show you.

  6. “Democrats predicted that Republicans would benefit most from the decision, because they are the traditional allies of big corporations, who have more money to spend than [Mafia-run] unions.

    And that’s a baaaaaad thing . . .

  7. This is why Air America failed. The people that would listen to such things are getting their fill directly from the whitehouse.

    1. Man, that is straight up racist…oh wait.

  8. The entire issue stems from the concept of ‘corporations as persons’ Either that idea needs to fall down a dark hole, or it needs to be opened up to all the implications involved in treating a corporation as a person. A right to vote for each corporation. How much does it cost to incorporate anyway? Think someone rich enough wouldn’t spend a few bucks and create enough LLCs to influence a close election. (it’s $125 to create an LLC in Florida, and I imagine it’s cheaper elsewhere) Even better, you can start to take control of state house and senate seats with a few thousand LLCs, Why put up adds when you can simply buy votes at the rate of 1000 votes per million spent?

    If a corporation has first amendment rights, then going all cafeteria and only giving them some is silly.

    1. The point is that corporations are groups of persons and thus have collective rights similar to other groups of persons such as churches, civic organizations, political parties, etc. Don’t mischaracterize our argument.

      1. you’re missing the point, as absurd as my argument is, the concept being pushed here is that a corporation is equal to a person in the eyes of the constitution. Just because you think the intent was to simply to put corporations on equal ground as other non corporate groups, doesn’t make the implications from this ruling any less powerful in it’s push to create corporations as equal to a person in the eyes of the constitution.

        1. I think you’re missing the point, bloodstar.

          The First Amendment says nothing about individuals or collectives. It says “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.”

          Now, if you want to argue that communications from unions, corporations, associations, partnerships, etc. are not “speech” or cannot be the “press”, go right ahead. But its a binary question: if it is speech/press, it is fully protected.

          Nothing in the First Amendment contemplates any distinction between speech or publications depending on the nature of the speaker/publisher.

          There are no grounds for allowing Congress to regulate speech by a group of people simply because it comes from a group, regardless of how the group is legally constituted.

          1. Understood and a very valid point. Thank you for the reminder.

          2. Exactly. Just compare it to another part of the amendment. What if it were legal to be Catholic, but illegal to form a church to practice your faith? After all, a church is not an individual, why should it have the same rights as a single believer?

            1. The other point that is important to remember is size. Yes, I do not like giant corporations with deep pockets haveing much influence. But in the current supreme court case, a group of just a few people who pool their resources is defined as a corporation. Abridging their freedom is more dangerous than allowing large corporations to make donations.

            2. As an individual, I sure would like to get the same tax breaks as a church. Why can’t I?

              1. You need to emit more diffuse and seemingly unsourced light.

            3. I like that argument. Very well made

        2. So in your world, people would have the freedom of association, they just wouldn’t be allowed to talk about it with others?

    2. The First Amendment says nothing about being applicable only to individuals. Indeed only individuals have rights, but corporations (last I saw) were populated by individuals. You cannot say “An individual has rights but if they form a club, then they lose those rights.”

      But there is another twist to this, and shows just how hypocritical the left (and the Statist right) can be when it comes to their fuzzy view on rights. You see, only individuals should have a right to free speech but not corporations, because rights cannot be collective but, when it comes to firearms, the right to have them is COLLECTIVE and thus individuals cannot possess firearms.

      Makes sense, right?

      1. I agree, an individual should not give up individual rights if they’re a part of a corporation, if the campaign finance laws restricted an individual from creating ads promoting one candidate or attacking another, then those laws should go away. The entire set of campaign finance reforms were poorly thought out and poorly built. but that doesn’t change the fact that giving corporations equal constitutional status as individual persons strikes me as a bad idea.

        1. “…giving corporations equal constitutional status as individual persons strikes me as a bad idea.”

          Did someone do that?

        2. Neither the constitution or the government “gives” rights! Government cannot grant rights, it can only curtail them ? and the 1st amendment is a limitation on the fed govts ability to curtail the right to free speech – something that is assumed by the Constitution to be inherent, and pre-existing to any government grant.

          So the whole premise of your comment is wrong.

      2. And with that post, OM officially becomes my favorite poster on H&R. Brilliant observation, OM.

  9. Threadjack. This should be getting more play than it is.…..d-failure/

  10. Oddly enough the whole thing boils down to personal responsibility. If the corporation advocates for something you disagree with sell it, vote out the board, raise hell. The same goes for unions, quilting circles, boy scout troops, and bridge clubs.

    Stop expecting government to protect you from your own lazy ass.

    1. Forgot, the irony of Obama calling anyone out on special interests is fucking priceless.

  11. Isn’t a “special interest” just a group that lobbies for favorable policies? It seems like the negative connotation has been painted with an overly broad brush.

    1. I agree. I hate when the term “special interests” is used in a negative connotation.

      NRA – special interest.
      Anti-Gun loby – special interest
      Audobon Society – special interest
      Exxon lobbyist – special interest
      AMA – special interest
      Tea partiers – special interest

      All are special interests, yet the term only seems to ever apply to the interests that aren’t the speakers. My interests are special, and yes, I want them represented, so stop trying to get them out of Washington, except to the extent that you reducing the size of the government as a whole.

      1. You know who else was a Special Interest? Yup, the Jews.

    2. And this is a very good point. The FUCKING statists want to limit free speech rights protected by the constitution because they are afraid corporations would buy government favors. The obvious solution to that isn’t to throw the Constitution in a toilet, it is to stop the government from doing the myriad of things that the Constitution does not even empower them to do! Once that happens, the influence buying will end

  12. So what was life like before campaign finance reforms were enacted? I don’t recall living under the rule of corporate dictators.

    Johns Stossel did a great segment about how complicated it is for candidates to conform to election rules. Only incumbents and candidates backed by major parties can afford to do the paperwork. So I say, anything that simplifies any election process is ok by me.

    1. “So what was life like before campaign finance reforms were enacted? I don’t recall living under the rule of corporate dictators.”

      There were only three TV channels.

      1. You had TV?

        You lucky, lucky bastard.

        1. Looooxury!

          We could only dream of having a lake.

    2. Yes, and you know the saying ?

      It isn’t a bug, its a feature

  13. Thanks for some excellent points and arguments everyone, I’m going to throw out some more thoughts, and please don’t assume I’m trying to concern troll, I’m trying to wrap my head around the implications here.

    If a group of foreign investors decide to create a corporation in the US and then funnels money into the corporation in an effort to affect and influence in the US election? What if it’s a foreign government behind the corporation? Will these also have First Amendment protection under this ruling?

    Separately, do you think this ruling could open up lawsuits to lift restrictions placed by states on corporations? and should the constitutional protections be expanded to place corporations under the same status for 4th amendment issues as well?

    (yes, I’m looking at SCOTUSblog and volokh as well, trying to get a better understanding of what’s going on)

    1. Here is a link to the supreme court arguement. I ask you to search the document for “book” and see how the campaign finance law, taken to its logical conclusion, but it ADVOCATES, mean that BOOKS could be banned.…..v=1&q=”supreme court” FEC case arguments&adlt=strict

      JUSTICE ALITO: Do you think the Constitution required Congress to draw the line where it did, limiting this to broadcast and cable and so forth? What’s your answer to Mr. Olson’s point that there isn’t any constitutional difference between the distribution of this movie on video demand and providing access on the Internet, providing DVDs, either through a commercial service or maybe in a public library, providing the same thing in a book? Would the Constitution permit the restriction of all of those as well?
      MR. STEWART: I think the — the Constitution would have permitted Congress to apply the electioneering communication restrictions to the extent that they were otherwise constitutional under Wisconsin Right to Life. Those could have been applied to additional media as well. And it’s worth remembering that the pre-existing Federal Election Campaign Act restrictions on corporate electioneering which have been limited by this Court’s decisions to express advocacy —
      JUSTICE ALITO: That’s pretty incredible. You think that if — if a book was published, a campaign biography that was the functional equivalent of express advocacy, that could be banned?
      MR. STEWART: I’m not saying it could be banned. I’m saying that Congress could prohibit the use of corporate treasury funds and could require a corporation to publish it using its PAC.
      JUSTICE ALITO: Well, most publishers are corporations. And a — a publisher that is a corporation could be prohibited from selling a book?
      MR. STEWART: Well, of course, the statute contains its own media exemption or media —
      JUSTICE ALITO: I’m not asking what the statute says. The government’s position is that the First Amendment allows the banning of a book if it’s published by a corporation?
      MR. STEWART: Because the First Amendment refers both to freedom of speech and of the press, there would be a potential argument that media corporations, the institutional press, would have a greater First Amendment right. That question is obviously not presented here. The — the other two things —
      JUSTICE KENNEDY: Well, suppose it were an advocacy organization that had a book. Your position is that under the Constitution, the advertising for this book or the sale for the book itself could be prohibited within the 60/90-day period — the 60/30-day period?
      MR. STEWART: If the book contained the functional equivalent of express advocacy. That is, if it was subject to no reasonable interpretation —

      I implore you to read the rest of it – and think about what freedom of speech means.

      1. No worries, I understand that given that corporations are people, and that spending money to buy airtime to advocate a certain point/candidate/position is considered speech (along with donations, which would render the concept of donations caps likely unconstitutional).

        I just wonder if there are more implications going on here than we’re seeing at this moment.

        And you’re right, while something about this bugs me, I can accept how it would be constitutional when the above concepts are accepted.

        1. BTW, welcome bloodstar!

          It’s good to have a non-conforming thinker here be something other than a whiny jack-ass.

            1. Thanks for the chuckle.

              1. Tony knows his cue, no?

          1. LOL no problems, I consider myself to be libertarian in bent, but not the most pure one I suppose.

            And while most people would agree a good ole fashion flame war and trollfest is fun every once in a while, most of the time I’d prefer to learn and debate and make sense out of things so I’m not quite so … ignorant … the next time I open my mouth. 😉

        2. Although the Supreme Court has said that corporations are persons, they are juridical persons and do not have all the rights of individuals. For example, the privileges and immunities clause, which prevents states from discriminating against non-residents with respect to fundamental rights, does not apply to corporations.

    2. If a group of foreign investors decide to create a corporation in the US and then funnels money into the corporation in an effort to affect and influence in the US election? What if it’s a foreign government behind the corporation? Will these also have First Amendment protection under this ruling?

      Sure. The 1st Amendment says nothing about “everyone except them damn furrners.”

      Besides, if a foreign multinational wants to influence an election, they’ll just hire a squad of ninjas to attack candidates in their sleep.

      1. But what if the person they’re attacking is a member of the Pirate Party, who wins the fight? 🙂

        1. At sea? Pirates all the way. Arrrr.

          On land, though, the pirates just stumble around, drunk off their rum. Easy pickings for ninjas.

    3. Will these also have First Amendment protection under this ruling?

      Yes. The First Amendment makes no distinction based on the identity of the speaker; all speech is protected equally, regardless of who says it or pays for it.

  14. bloodstar – I can’t see why a foreign corporation with a US-based subsidiary couldn’t advertise for Candidate Y. Foreign citizens are still given the right to free speech. And certainly, a french national could run an ad saying “hey, vote for this guy.”

    I’m not sure how much good it would do since Candidate X can just come out and say “did you know so and so supports Candidate Y?”

    Its not like plenty of misleading and false advertisements aren’t already being ran. Its not like you can currently base your entire voting strategy off of TV/Radio ads and after this ruling you won’t be able too.

    1. I think my head hurts now… heh

    2. Big B brings up a good point… why don’t we see more of the “negative endorsement” campaign ad? Pay someone that the candidate wouldn’t want to be associated with to do a positive ad?:

      “Do you remember me? I’m John Wayne Gacy and I murdered 33 young boys and raped their corpses. When you go to the polls this fall…”

      1. That’s fucking hilarious. Definitely would make election season a hell of a lot more fun.

    3. considering how screwed up our trade balance is, I’d be fine if we turn political ads into a major export industry. Thats almost as good a scam as getting everybody else to use dollars as a reserve currency.

  15. And what if a corporation decides to create a separate start-up company, then that company is legally its fetus, and since abortion is legal, they could kill all the employees since according to SCOTUS, the employees of the start-up/fetus are just cells in the body!

  16. Republicans would benefit most from the decision, because they are the traditional allies of big corporations

    Rock and roll is traditionally played by Chuck Berry.

    1. And quite well, I might add.

  17. And in fact, its not even true. Some of the big Wall Street banks donate to teh Dems at a 2-to-1 ratio. And even to teh extent that they don’t, its not exactly like the lack of donations caused them Dems to turn their backs on them, did it?

    1. Ack, wrong thread! I meant to post that in the Ernie Guevara thread….

  18. The whole idea behind limiting contributions is rather insulting: that adults are formless morons, whose opinions are as malleable as clay.

    Good marketing / information can change opinions, (but not everyone’s). Even then, it only works if it’s intelligent and persuasive. If it was easy, advertising wouldn’t be a multi-billion dollar business.

    1. At least it’s consistent with the “TV commercials make kids fat” and “videos games make kids violent.”

      This notion that everyone else is so malleable mentally is so pervasive, it just has to be projection.

    2. Saw this on a Facebook wall:

      We are far from “educated”–as a whole–which is really why this issue of relatively unlimited political funding is so dangerous. The uneducated ARE the people at which those cheesy, insanely partisan TV ads are aimed.

      1. Zoltan, I had a similar thought, but meant to imply that those sort of ads had better be aimed at uneducated independents, because it’s unclear what effect, if any, they’d have on uneducated partisans.

  19. Democrats predicted that Republicans would benefit most from the decision, because they are the traditional allies of big corporations

    This is so much a lie by omission. Republicans may be more pro-business, but from what I can tell big corporations actually send their campaign money to Democrats, because they’re more likely to screw them over than Republicans.

    who have more money to spend than unions.

    Is this actually true? While we’re at it, why aren’t unions getting hammered by the IRS? Last I looked unions are generally organized as non-profits, and non-profits are prohibited by the Internal Revenue Code from engaging in express political advocacy.

  20. No, Bob, they’re not.

    Being a non-profit corporation is not the same thing as having tax-exempt status with the IRS.

    Being a non-profit is related to the terms of one’s incorporation status. Unions have no profits on which to pay taxes, hence they are non-profits.

    Tax-exempt status with the IRS relates to whether or not donors can subtract the amount of their donations from their taxable income. Different thing.

    Workers get to deduct their union dues because they are an employment expense. They cannot subtract the “voluntary” contributions they make to the unions political fund.

    I use quotes around voluntary because whereas contributions to the political fund are, in fact, voluntary by law, don’t make them and see how long you stay in good standing. That’s important if your in the building trades. It could mean the difference between steady work or steady unemployment.

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