Obama Fights 'Corporate Takeover of Our Elections'


In his radio address on Saturday, President Obama continued to wax apocalyptic about the impact of lifting restrictions on the political speech of Americans organized as corporations. "What we are facing is no less than a potential corporate takeover of our elections," he warned. "What is at stake is no less than the integrity of our democracy."

Yet the restrictions overturned by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC—the ban on corporate spending "in connection with" an election and the ban on "electioneering communications"—date from 1974 and 2002, respectively. Did corporations control our elections, thereby destroying the integrity of our democracy, prior to either of those dates? The latter ban, which covered "issue ads" as well as "express advocacy," was supposedly necessary because the Supreme Court's 1976 interpretation of the earlier ban rendered it ineffective. So according to Obama, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, a.k.a. McCain-Feingold, gave us less than a decade of pure politics, and we are now returning to the unmitigated corporate corruption that characterized the rest of our history.

Or maybe not. Obama suggests that even during the good-government era ushered in by McCain-Feingold, special interests were known to have an impact on public policy:

Every time a major issue arises, we've come to expect that an army of lobbyists will descend on Capitol Hill in the hopes of tilting the laws in their favor. That's one of the reasons I ran for President: because I believe so strongly that the voices of ordinary Americans were being drowned out by the clamor of a privileged few in Washington.

In other words, the ban on electioneering communications that was absolutely essential to preventing corporate domination of politics failed to prevent corporate domination of politics. And now that the Supreme Court has overturned the ban—a decision Obama described as "more devastating to the public interest" than anything else he could think of because it "strikes at our democracy itself"—he says the real issue is transparency:

Of course every organization has every right in this country to make their voices heard. But the American people also have the right to know when some group like "Citizens for a Better Future" is actually funded entirely by "Corporations for Weaker Oversight."

If "every organization has every right in this country to make their voices heard," why does Obama insist the Supreme Court was wrong to recognize that right? And if disclosure can accomplish the same result as censorship, why didn't he support that approach to begin with?