Express Advocacy for Us but Not for Them


Mother Jones reporter Suzy Khimm notes that the deluge of corporate speech prophesied by President Obama and other critics of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC so far does not even amount to a trickle. The Center for Responsive Politics counts exactly one example of express advocacy by a corporation in the recent elections: "A real-estate company called KDR Development ran a print advertisement against the Democratic incumbent in a Texas state House race." Labor unions, by contrast, have been quick to take advantage of their new freedom:

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the AFL-CIO have begun to use the new Citizens United rules to promote their preferred candidates in closely fought contests, such as Lt. Gov. Bill Halter's challenge to Sen. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas' Democratic Senate primary, and the special election in Pennsylvania's 12th congressional district, which Democrat Mark Critz won in mid-May….

The ads urged voters to "say no to Blanche Lincoln," "vote no on Blanche Lincoln," and "vote for Bill Halter," as well as another TV ad that suggested that "it's time for Arkansas to let [Lincoln] go."…

Similarly, the AFL-CIO told voters to "cast a vote for Pennsylvania jobs—Mark Critz for Congress" in a radio spot funded by soft money contributions. "We participated heavily in that election and we're proud of the results we got," says AFL-CIO spokeswoman Amaya Tune. "We think that ad, and others that we got, were extremely helpful in pushing Critz over."

It makes sense that unions, which do not have to worry about alienating customers or upsetting shareholders, would be be more eager to run political ads than major corporations are. Still, Ricky Feller, AFSCME's deputy political director, worries that the union advantage won't last and therefore suggests that it should be enshrined in law:

"Once corporations figure out how they're going to do this or not do this, we can't compete with their money," says Feller. But they believe that the same rules shouldn't apply to them. "We think unions are different from corporations," says AFL-CIO's Tune. "They actually represent members who pay their dues, representing working people."

Khimm alludes to the DISCLOSE Act, which she describes as "legislation that would create stricter disclosure requirements for political advertising," without mentioning that it embodies the sort of double standard Feller wants.