Here they come. They are full of very passionate people with very passionate wallets who don’t even notice that they are suddenly out $14 million.
Likely by now we have all heard of them. They are a scourge of the legal world.
Political commentators speak of them with a good deal of contempt and even a great deal of lawyers think that they are ridiculous.
That’s right. We’re talking about SuperPACs.
These companies have existed in one form or another for longer than you would think, but have only come to prominence since the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee.
In that case, a company, Citizens United, wanted to produce a movie aimed at taking Hillary Clinton down a peg or two, Michael Moore style, and advertise it far and wide prior to the primary elections eventually won by Barack Obama.
Alas, Citizens United and DirectTV sought to make the movie available on-demand within 30 days of the Democratic Primaries which was illegal because Citizens United is a company, which was prohibited from producing ads attacking any specific candidate within 30 days of a primary, and 60 days of the general election. In order to
profit right this wrong, Citizens United sued the Federal Election Committee.
Their main claim was that Hillary: The Movie, their film, was analogous to Farenheit 9/11 as a fact based documentary and not “electioneering.”
The D.C. District Court found the film to be a 90 minute attack ad against Hillary Clinton and was clearly electioneering. That inspired the appeals that brought the case to the Supremes.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Super Political Action Committees (PAC[s]) can take in tremendous sums of money now and advertise at will for a specific candidate. TheCitizens United case has made these companies a convenient corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid campaign donation limitations and disclosure rules, the maximum donation being $2,500 which includes being listed publicly as a donor.
This all comes up now because of a recent article in the New York Times detailing how “superdonors” are spending their money.
Now, make no mistake, it is a bit premature to mark this as the way things will shape up in the end, but the Republican candidates for the 2012 election have been getting a head start on fund raising, and these super donors are leading the charge.
Who are these donors and how much have they contributed?
Glad you asked.
The Times didn’t put out the entire list, however, they did detail a few (about two dozen) that really show how absurd this is going to get.
For example, Sheldon Adelson, number 8 on the Forbes 400, has donated over a million dollars, likely to Newt Gingrich; Mitt Romney has garnered around a million from Paul B. Edgerley, his friend and former boss at Bain Capital; and David and Charles Koch ($25 billion each) are broad range supporters, also have donated over a million thus far, and spent $45 million of their money and donated funds on the last mid-term election cycle alone, and seem to coordinate some of the richest donors; quoth the Times:
Several [superdonors] attend the exclusive, secretive gatherings of wealthy conservative donors hosted twice a year by the billionaire Koch brothers. [NYT]
Thus far, however, the largest most obscene donor has been Harold C. Simmons, number 33 on Forbes’ list of the 400 wealthiest individuals in America.
Simmons, thus far, has donated a combined $14 million to various Republican candidates, through their supporting PACs, with more certainly on its way.
It is scary to see the logical progression coming from this.
Assuming that the Democrats catch up in the donation and PAC department that leaves the majority of the influence over the people who are supposed to represent the will of the people to about 50 wealthy individuals and companies (though we should assume it’ll be a little more as we get closer to the general election).
That is ridiculous and terrifying.
We as a people shouldn’t want the principles of Bain Capital, The Koch Company, Valhi, Inc., etc. having even more power to influence politics than they do already. That leads to them suggesting things to their favorite politicians that will interfere with our everyday lives, such as Simmons recent initiative in the Texas House of Representatives to pass a bill allowing,
Simmons’ Waste Control Specialists to import low level radioactive waste from other states and dispose of the material at their facility in Andrews County, Texas. [Forbes]
In summary, the Supreme Court took the legal fiction that tries to make sense of corporate rights though personification way too far. In Providence Bank v. Billings, 29 U.S. 514 (1830), Chief Justice Marshall said that, “The great object of an incorporation is to bestow the character and properties of individuality on a collective and changing body of men.” However, we believe that has been greatly taken out of context.
People are flesh and blood. They do not act by committee. They taste, smell, touch, see, hear, and feel. They make and break associations. They talk. They interact. And the rights that they have within the Constitution are derived from that.
Companies, on the other hand, have more in common with well-trained pet. They act as their individuals decide. They can do tricks. They can even “speak” if they are told to. And we personify them because that is how we relate to them. But, make no mistake, just like pets, corporations are property.
We have given our pets some basic rights, but at the end of the day, Fluffy doesn’t have a “voice” or a vote, and neither should Bain Capital, Bank of America, Microsoft, Google, American Express, or Domino’s Pizza.
Hopefully this will be settled sometime in the future and we can all have a good laugh the next time he goes to the Iowa State Fair and declares that “corporations are people”.
For 2012, however, we’ll have to sit back and watch the carnage as the Superdonors and their pets run amok over the general election.
We welcome your thoughts on the superdonors and Citizens United case.