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President Colbert, the lobbyists are here to see you
January 17, 2012 9:35 AM   Subscribe

Why Citizen's United isn't the problem, and why Stephen Colbert is missing the mark.

Citizen's United previously.

This post brought to you by the letters P, A, and C, and the numbers 5, 2, and 7.
posted by postel's law (88 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
At least with attack ads everything -- except the donors' identities -- is pretty much out in the open.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:39 AM on January 17, 2012


Citizens United doesn't change this so much as it levels the playing field.

Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp annual profit (2010?): $2.75 billion

Exxon Mobile annual income (2010): $30.46 billion
posted by muddgirl at 9:43 AM on January 17, 2012 [10 favorites]


Corporations are people, my friend.
posted by blucevalo at 9:46 AM on January 17, 2012 [9 favorites]


There is little doubt that corporations play a big role in American politics. But the true corporate kingmakers are the mass media outlets that decide what news is fit to print, which candidates are "serious" and which issues are important enough to cover. Citizens United doesn't change this so much as it levels the playing field.

Yes, now all corporations have an equal chance to wrest control of the state away from citizens! Thank God Almighty!
posted by DU at 9:46 AM on January 17, 2012 [10 favorites]


CU is the straw that broke the camel's back. It is the end result of an increasingly corrupt system. The brilliant part of Colbert's act is that it isn't actually satire, it's just the law.
posted by mek at 9:47 AM on January 17, 2012 [16 favorites]


You know, if we still had a Fairness Doctrine, and there wasn't at least one TV network that is nothing but 24 hour a day political propaganda, this argument would be a hell of a lot easier to refute.
posted by mellow seas at 9:49 AM on January 17, 2012 [9 favorites]


The brilliant part of Colbert's act is that it isn't actually satire, it's just the law.

Physician Legislator heal regulate thyself!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:49 AM on January 17, 2012


But the true corporate kingmakers are the mass media outlets that decide what news is fit to print, which candidates are "serious" and which issues are important enough to cover. Citizens United doesn't change this so much as it levels the playing field.

This seems wrong to me. First of all, this is not a "playing field" that needed leveling in the first place; it doesn't follow that all corporations should be allowed unlimited monetary access to the organs of government through political manipulation just because there isn't an easy way to stop media corporations from manipulating public affairs for their own benefit. And it sounds exactly like something CEOs of non-media corporations would think and advocate.

Frankly, this is very disappointing coming from the Atlantic. Looks like they're alright with pro-corporate propaganda presented in their pages.
posted by clockzero at 9:50 AM on January 17, 2012 [9 favorites]


I can turn off CNN. I can change the channel away from Fox News. But when I'm watching a show that I want to watch, I can't help but be bombarded by campaign advertisements funded through CU.

The heart of the issue is corporate lobbying, but Citizens United made things worse. Colbert is right to target this legislation.
posted by glaucon at 9:50 AM on January 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


The tone of this article sounds like the Atlantic is jealous of the TV news media.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 9:50 AM on January 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


The whole reason for Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart's existence as comedy shows is to point out ridiculous situations in current events. More than anything, this is the reason Colbert formed his Super PAC- he thought it would be funny, and as a side benefit, if it brought some awareness to campaign finance reform, maybe that's an added bonus.

But I don't see Colbert's stand (if you can call a mockery of something a stand) is that Citizens United needs to be overturned and then everything will be peachy keen. But it is ridiculous that we have these laws with loopholes large enough to drive billion dollar corporations through, and it's worth pointing out that these flaws, even if you don't necessarily have the definitive answer as to what is the better solution.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 9:53 AM on January 17, 2012 [11 favorites]


Maybe it's more fair to look at News Corps annual revenue, since Kain's contention is that media conglomerates can freely stump for candidates as part of their operating costs (which I don't dispute).

News Corp's annual international revenue is about $35 billion. So if they are prepared to spend every revenue dollar to stump for a US candidate, they can slightly edge out what Exxon Mobil can spend just from their profit margin.
posted by muddgirl at 9:54 AM on January 17, 2012


I do think there is a point to be made about how, in a massive democracy, we experience politics (especially presidential elections) mainly through TV and the Internet, but this isn't it. Citizens United is the result of two Bush terms and I shudder to think what another Republican administration or two would do to the Supreme Court.
posted by mattbucher at 9:55 AM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


How many times have we heard a reporter describe Mitt Romney as the "presumed Republican nominee?" More times than I can count, journalists have claimed that the Romney campaign has worked hard to cultivate an "air of inevitability" for the former Massachusetts governor's candidacy. But is the Romney campaign responsible for this impression? Or is it a product of the media's repetitive claims? If enough journalists and news anchors and columnists claim that Romney is the presumptive nominee, it's no surprise that his inevitability quickly becomes part of conventional wisdom.

This seems to me to get it really wrong. What the media, above all, wants is an exciting story. That's why it has leaped onto every "non-Romney" candidate as soon as they've shown even the least signs of posing a serious challenge to Mitt. The media would love to be telling a dramatic story about an insurgent candidate toppling the "presumed front runner" right now--be it Gingrich or Santorum or whomever. That would be the story that would generate the most buzz, attract the most eyeballs, sell the most papers and provide journalists with a chance to write pulitzer prize winning copy.

The only reason the media called Mitt the "presumptive Republican nominee" so many times was because he WAS the presumptive nominee. The idea that somehow the press had decided in a secret smoke-filled room somewhere to peddle this story--constructing it out of whole cloth--is just absurd. What the press does do is provide an echo-chamber and an amplifier that gives emergent storylines more solidity than they probably deserve: thus the "Gingrich surge"--for example--was amplified in its dimensions by the media attention, just as the subsequent Gingrich slump was. I'm not sure that there's much of a way around that kind of problem, though.

There are ways in which the media can have a pernicious effect on public discourse by freezing certain kinds of counterfactual narratives into place ("debt crisis" for example)--but they are really never these kinds of horse-race issues where the media's bias is always towards the race itself. They usually involve simplistic interpretations of complex social phenomena (like drug abuse, or economic turmoil or what have you).
posted by yoink at 9:56 AM on January 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


Well, as long as all corporations have equal access to political power, it's a fair system, right?
posted by overglow at 9:57 AM on January 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think the author has a point about the power of media companies. However, after Citizens United, corporate money can be funneled anonymously to fund AstroTurf campaigns. At least when you're watching an opinion piece on a news channel, it's obvious who allowed that to be on the air. We should not protect the anonymity of corporate speech.
posted by demiurge at 9:59 AM on January 17, 2012


The day-to-day grind of the political process that should worry Americans more. Lobbyists for powerful special interests descend on Washington in droves to influence the machinations of our democracy.

Well, is the author saying don't sweat the Citizen's United issue because politics are already corrupted by corporations? It seems to me that this new ability only strengthens their already strong grip on the levers of government.

To truly take on Citizens United, opponents would also have to take on free speech, quite possibly undermining the causes they believe in most.

Okay, this is begging the central question, which is whether money spent is equal to "speech." If so, then there go all the bribery laws. "Hey, we were just havin' a conversation heah." The absurdity of equating money and speech boggles my mind. It is no more equal to speech than a punch in the face is. Yes, it can be used to communicate, but it can also coerce unfairly and illogically. SCOTUS made a huge mistake (tactical insurgency?) in Citizen's United and it needs to be overturned.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:00 AM on January 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


This sounds just like those arguments for flat tax schemes. If everyone is allowed to spend 100% of their income supporting the candidates and positions of their choice, then that's exactly fair, no?
posted by Garm at 10:01 AM on January 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Okay, this is begging the central question, which is whether money spent is equal to "speech."

No, the central question of CU is: are corporations people?
posted by DU at 10:04 AM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think Colbert is misguided at all. He got E.D. Kain to write an article about it there by elevating the discussion past those people who only know Colbert from CC and into the readers of the Atlantic.

Colbert is doing whatever it takes to get the issue out and I think he is accomplishing that so far.

I'd call that pretty guided actually.
posted by lampshade at 10:04 AM on January 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


The law, in its majestic equality, allows the poor as well as the rich to make massive television ad buys in support of issues that are important to them, to purchase influence from politicians in the form of campaign contributions, and to orchestrate well-produced multi-pronged public relations campaigns to drive the narrative.

With due apologies to Anatole France.
posted by gauche at 10:08 AM on January 17, 2012 [42 favorites]


Citizens United doesn't change this so much as it levels the playing field.

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids allows the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread spend as much as they would like to purchase the government they want."
posted by entropicamericana at 10:09 AM on January 17, 2012 [11 favorites]


you bastard, gauche
posted by entropicamericana at 10:09 AM on January 17, 2012 [13 favorites]


I think the most important issue with The Media and elections is how much money they (including magazines and websites) are making from running campaign ads and how the SuperPACs are fattening that Cash Cow. (In fact, it's easier for such entities to spend their money on advertising than anything else) The Atlantic may wail about its lack of ability to make its opinions heard as loudly as the TV News Channels, but the extra income it's getting after Citizen's United makes it feel a lot better. Cha-ching.

(remember, ALWAYS follow the money)
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:10 AM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


But when I'm watching a show that I want to watch, I can't help but be bombarded by campaign advertisements funded through CU
But that doesn't change anyone's vote, right? Because everybody is already exercising the most basic responsibility of a citizen and independently researching the candidates and issues they're asked to vote for or against, enabling them to discern the honest ads from the misleading ones?

Ha, ha, just kidding. But now that we've identified the problem underlying the symptoms, does it still seem likely that "let's let the government ban books, like the losers in Citizens United was literally asking for" is the solution? What's the theoretical mechanism here: dead air causes TV viewers to get up and go find League of Women Voters pamphlets to stave off boredom? (assuming those haven't been banned; they do cost money to research and print) Incumbents become sick of DC weather, and subconsciously start applying harsher standards to their own supporters than to their challengers?
posted by roystgnr at 10:15 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are many nefarious ways that governments and corporations can work together to the detriment of the average American citizen...The collusion between Washington and the most powerful American financial firms is a far more profound and troubling phenomenon than anything decided in Citizens United.

The brakes are gone, so there's no point in trying to steer now.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:19 AM on January 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Okay, this is begging the central question, which is whether money spent is equal to "speech."

No, the central question of CU is: are corporations people?


Yes, that's a stupid one, too. More evidence of the increasingly bizarre nature of our society.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:21 AM on January 17, 2012


Citizens United doesn't change this so much as it levels the playing field.

So Howard Dean could have recovered his campaign by rebutting with 24/7 advertisements featuring his own, more complementary remixes of "The Dean Scream"?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:23 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Note that the author, E. D. Kain, is hardly a corporate stooge.

Max Frenkel has an interesting proposal in Politics and Television: How to Level the Playing Field.
A rational people looking for fairness in their politics would have long ago demanded that television time be made available at no cost and apportioned equally among rival candidates. But no one expects that any such arrangement is now possible. Political ads are jealously guarded as a major source of income by television stations. And what passes for news on most TV channels gives short shrift to most political campaigns except perhaps to “cover” the advertising combat.

There are no easy ways to repair our entire election system. But I believe that a large degree of fairness could be restored to our campaigns if we level the TV playing field. And given the television industry’s huge stake in paid political advertising, it (and the Supreme Court) would surely resist limiting campaign ads, as many European countries do. With so much campaign cash floating around, there is only one attractive remedy I know of: double the price of political commercials so that every candidate’s purchase of TV time automatically pays for a comparable slot awarded to an opponent. The more you spend, the more your rival benefits as well. The more you attack, the more you underwrite the opponent’s responses. The desirable result would likely be that rival candidates would negotiate an arms control agreement, setting their own limits on their TV budgets and maybe even on their rhetoric.
posted by russilwvong at 10:24 AM on January 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


A Modest Proposal

self link sorry no i'm not self link
posted by tspae at 10:30 AM on January 17, 2012


Colbert's gift to America is his illumination of the processes. Airtime or not, he's using what he has to show how someone with access to money and power can easily exert their influence.
The episode where he handed the PAC over to Stewart was a masterstroke on one of the most fabulous satiric comedic routines of this age. I can't wait until after this is all over and all of the footage is re-edited in to one movie-length saga.
posted by Theta States at 10:32 AM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Corporations are my friends, people."
FTFY, Mitt.
posted by leftcoastbob at 10:34 AM on January 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


I don't think Kain is a shill, which makes this article particularly strange.

For example, this bit:
they also apply to non-profit advocacy corporations, such as, say, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood
The Planned Parenthood PAC (different from the Planned Parenthood non-profit organization), under the Russell-Feingold act, could engage in as much advocacy as they wanted. So could Exxon-Mobil. They just couldn't engage in direct electioneering. I'm OK with restricting PP's right to electioneer.
posted by muddgirl at 10:34 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm bothered by this author's idea of a "level playing field," which sounds great until you realize that you've got a professional NFL team playing for the corporations on one side of the field, and on the other side, a bunch of uneasy-looking guys with flags hanging out of the waistbands of their shorts. It's like saying, "rich people commit crimes and get off scot-free all the time, so let's just do away with laws." Sure, we could do that...or, we could work harder to rein in the unfair advantages of the overwhelmingly privileged, rather than merely ratifying the sociopath-takes-all thugocracy we've got going now.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 10:41 AM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Frankly, this is very disappointing coming from the Atlantic. Looks like they're alright with pro-corporate propaganda presented in their pages.

Dunno whats happened to the The Atlantic over the last couple-three years, but last summer I ended my subscription after 15+ years. Way too much hackery for my tastes.

Miss reading that Fallows fellow, however.
posted by notyou at 10:43 AM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


The article doesn't even get the name right - "...his very own super PAC, Citizens for a Better Tomorrow."
It's Citizens for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.

Completely misses the mark indeed.
posted by hypersloth at 10:46 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are so many marks that aiming for any one is missing the mark.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:52 AM on January 17, 2012


What happened to the Atlantic happened in '99 when David Bradley took the helm. it's basically been all downhill since then, with the exception of the late Michael Kelly.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:59 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kain: To truly take on Citizens United, opponents would also have to take on free speech

This is, of course, bullshit. "Free speech" is itself an ideological term. I've long been inclined to find Stanley Fish's argument worthwhile in this regard. A quotation (my emphasis):
When Milton names Catholic discourse as the exception to his toleration he does so because in his view Catholic speech is subversive of everything speech, in general, is supposed to do -- keep the conversation going, continue the search for Truth. In short, if speech is really to be free in the sense that he desires, Catholics cannot be allowed freely to produce it. This might seem paradoxical, but in fact it is Milton's recognition of a general condition: free speech is what's left over when you have determined which forms of speech cannot be permitted to flourish. The "free speech zone" emerges against the background of what has been excluded. Everyone begins by assuming what shouldn't be said; otherwise there would be no point to saying anything.
The First Amendment is not a suicide pact.
posted by holgate at 11:05 AM on January 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


After listening to this yesterday on NPR, spottily, driving through PA on I-80, I have never wanted to punch someone more in my life than I wanted to punch Cleta Mitchell. She was just so incredibly nasty and overreact-y (sorry, I just totally Whedoned that word), that it made me want to go running in the other direction and say "I don't care what the hell you say or represent, Ted, I just automatically believe YOU now."

The short version of that entire conversation on NPR yesterday was this:

* Stephen Colbert's humor might be going over the heads of the people it's aimed at...
* Cleta Mitchell is horrible
* Ted Koppel is really good at keeping his cool when a conversation turns nasty
* Neal Conan doesn't quite know how to handle loony rightwingers
* Some people think superPACs are a bummer, but I don't think they're going anywhere soon
* The FEC, FTC and many other government divisions are a bunch of spineless bastards
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:07 AM on January 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


holgate, by that logic, certain Islamic fundamentalists should also be denied "free speech" privileges, no?
posted by BobbyVan at 11:26 AM on January 17, 2012


About 15 minutes after I posted my last comment, I was driving in my car and I realized, as I do, that it's the McCain-Feingold Act (not the Russell-Feingold Act - that's just silly).
posted by muddgirl at 11:28 AM on January 17, 2012


Some people think superPACs are a bummer, but I don't think they're going anywhere soon

I've actually been really enjoying the freshman 'work' of the Super PACs during the Republican primary. What I'm worried about is their sophomore and junior efforts, when they've got a little more experience under their belt.

Consider: How much would it cost to convince, say, Rahm Emmanuel to start a "Super PAC associated with President Obama" that is actually controlled by someone like the Koch brothers? If Rahm Emmanuel isn't corruptable, who is?
posted by muddgirl at 11:30 AM on January 17, 2012


Ugh, not that I know that Emmanuel is corrupt (heh), just that a billionaire can work down the list of known Obama allies until they get to one who will take the money.
posted by muddgirl at 11:34 AM on January 17, 2012


After reading the Fish piece, I see that he's using the Catholic example as an illustration. He's not endorsing shutting down the public communications of the modern Catholic church. But he implicitly argues that the Neo-Nazi's shouldn't march in Skokie, and suggests that because we would not abide a class to teach people how to be better child molesters (a crime), none of us supports "free speech." I think those are spurious examples, and Fish's argument is itself a relic of the 1990's "speech code" debates.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:37 AM on January 17, 2012


Note that the author, E. D. Kain, is hardly a corporate stooge.

He doesn't have to be a stooge to start from the incorrect assumption that corporate money in politics is right to begin with. Lots of people (homo sapiens) make that mistake.
posted by Revvy at 11:39 AM on January 17, 2012


The First Amendment is not a suicide pact.

But God told us all to move to Guyana!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:41 AM on January 17, 2012


But I believe that a large degree of fairness could be restored to our campaigns if we level the TV playing field. And given the television industry’s huge stake in paid political advertising, it (and the Supreme Court) would surely resist limiting campaign ads, as many European countries do.

We've lived in oppositeland for so long, we buy ridiculous arguments.

1. Government officials are employees, not bosses.
2. The airwaves belong to the people, not the media. (In other words, who gives a fuck what their "stake " in this is? They are not entitled to profit from our election process. Period.)
3. Money absolutely does corrupt, regardless of the SCOTUS' opinion. That's why we have bribery laws.

Adding money to the process is ridiculous if you want any kind of accountability. Money +anonymity is even worse; it's essentially a gun to the head of real democracy. If we want a sane and accountable system, we need to remove money from the process, not add it.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:41 AM on January 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


holgate, by that logic, certain Islamic fundamentalists should also be denied "free speech" privileges, no?

I'm not a "free speech" absolutist, because I think "free speech" is a loaded and bullshitty term, and that "absolutism" is not less loaded and bullshitty. I'm a functionalist, in that regard: freedom of expression is to be valued because it provides value to the functioning of a democratic society.

Fish's philosophical argument is that the denial of privileges goes on all the time, and is embedded into the concept: the normative state of "free expression", even in a significantly broader constitutional framework like that of the US, is premised upon exclusion. "[T]he situation of constraint is the normative one and that the distinctions which are to be made are between differing situations of constraint." It's an old-line conservative argument, but if you follow the link, you'll see that he's not arguing against the need to protect political speech, but that he regards the legal tradition of First Amendment protection as a balancing test.
posted by holgate at 11:42 AM on January 17, 2012


Everybody gets to throw their money into the pot at the start of the game already, without needing the benefit of a corporation to represent them when they do it. So why should those who have the benefit of a corporation representing them get a second or third chance to throw their money in the pot? Or to direct their employees to throw their money in the pot too?

Free speech is an individual right. Always has been. Always will be. As long as no law impinges on an individual's right to exercise their right to free speech, the collective right is preserved. The idea of corporate rights is nonsense, as corporations are a legal fiction, not a natural entity, and legal rights are natural in origin.

Therefore when we argue about "corporate free speech" we are really just arguing over who gets to have additional free speech powers (by virtue of participation in certain kinds of associations) that the rest of us don't.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:50 AM on January 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Thanks holgate. If nothing else, I've learned that Fish is surprisingly cynical. To wit:
If you can get the right "principles" on your side, if you can announce your own program and wrap it literally in the flag of the right high- sounding phrases, you can have a great advantage over your opponents. That is why, even though I am always arguing against the coherence of most First Amendment arguments and doctrines, I never urge people to stop using First Amendment formulas -- because they have so much resonance. Freedom of speech, individual rights, the establishment of autonomy, the freedom from governmental restraint -- these are magic phrases. The trick is to take those magic phrases and fill them in with the content that will then generate the outcome that you desire.
Stanley Fish, meet Leo Strauss.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:52 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


E.D.Kain isn't very good at outright editorials. He's at his best after he's dropped some thoughts like this onto a blog, had it kicked around a bit, revised or changed his opinions and then repeated the process for several more blog entries. That makes him sound wishy washy, but finding a political blogger who posts, discusses, learns (usually) and is willing to admit previous error is pretty rare. I wouldn't be surprised if he's changed his mind after a while of having this punted around the interwebs.
posted by charred husk at 11:53 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think those are spurious examples, and Fish's argument is itself a relic of the 1990's "speech code" debates.

The opening sally might well be -- I was in the room when Fish was lecturing on the topic in the mid-90s -- but the conceptual basis of "free speech" as a constrained set, and not an infinite one, seems to me to have long-term value.

In more practical terms, as I watch the soft-focus candidate ads bracketed by not-at-all-coordinated SuperPAC ads slapping the other candidates, I have to think that if this is how the First Amendment is supposed to work for political speech, then it's fucking stupid, and I'll take the "unfree speech" of countries that aren't in hock to such manipulable idiocy.
posted by holgate at 11:55 AM on January 17, 2012


I'll support the idea that corporations are people as soon as corporations -- every individual part of them -- can be tried as a single individual, and everyone involved with them can suffer the consequences of their bad actions.

IOW, corporations are not people because they cannot be held accountable the way people can. The worst you can do is dissolve them, but they can immediately reform themselves under another name.

This limitations on their accountability should equal severe limitations on their right to free speech, and their ability to participate in the democratic process.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:01 PM on January 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sometimes The Atlantic has good stuff, but this is pretty bad. It sounds exactly like Colbert had scored a direct spear hit, and the kraken is trying to defend itself.

Every time some horrible monstrous thing flops onto the Americal political landscape, and I mean EVERY time, before long there's at least one article seeking to persuade us that no, this thing isn't the real problem, it's this other, INVISIBLE monster that's been tap-dancing on our heads all this time, and the new monster is here to fight it, and oh noes, by fighting the thing you think is wrong, you're really furthering the thing that's REALLY wrong. Oh you poor misguided fools thank god the neocon-owned Atlantic is here to SHOW YOU THE LIGHT.
posted by JHarris at 12:12 PM on January 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


[From the 'comments' section]

Kain writes:

the point I'm trying to make here is that the big money in politics will always find a way to exert itself regardless of the rules we set up

Kain (I hope you're reading this), if this is the conclusion you've reached, then you've just surrendered. You're saying that in the battle between wealth and democracy, democracy can never win. You're saying that the best we can do is to funnel as much money as we can to MoveOn.org or Planned Parenthood and let them fight it out in the land of ad buys with Mitt Romney's Super PAC and FOX News.

So if you can't beat em, join em? That's insane. First of all, very few things in this world need be true "always." We can make changes. We have before.

Second, this is a battle we would lose even if we won. Follow this. Planned Parenthood has to raise money to compete in the media wars, right? How are they going to do this? Through donations from like-minded citizens, one would hope. But FOX News, Mitt Romney, and the corporations who own/back them get to dip into a vast reservoir known as corporate profits. Planned Parenthood can raise money but the other side can raise infinitely more. And if PP increases its revenues, then the other side will have to do likewise. The whole thing turns into a financial version of the nuclear arms race.

So PP has little choice. They have to go out and do whatever it takes to raise more money. They have to compete with the corporations. Under current laws, that isn't possible. PP is a non-profit; they can't sell X-Boxes or issue stock and I don't see how they're going to outsource their labor to China. But even if they figure out a way to transform into a profit-seeking entity, it'd still be a victory for Murdoch. Profit-seeking entities act like profit-seeking entities. They protect their bottom line. They lobby for increased power and decreased regulation. They have to or they get swallowed up by other profit-seeking entities who aren't so squeamish. Before long, Planned Parenthood isn't so concerned with passing out pamphlets; they're busy preventing their workers from forming a union.

So if it's a battle in which the largest pile of money wins, you can just go ahead and kiss democracy good-bye right now.

Now, if CU gets overturned and Planned Parenthood suffers in the short run because they can't buy ads attacking Mitt Romney, what they will have to do is play to their strengths. They can use the internet to talk to individuals and those individuals can participate in political actions. You've heard of "Occupy Wall Street." How about "Occupy Operation Rescue"? Let's see Romney fight that shit with ad buys. Real, sustained grass-roots political activism isn't for sale.

Ridiculing Super PACs and ballot-bombing in South Carolina are not going to come anywhere close to ending the influence of money on our elections. But Colbert's tactics could be useful if they're part of a larger, sustained effort. And no matter how you slice it, the money is the problem.
posted by Clay201 at 12:55 PM on January 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


The Atlantic

yeahhhh naw
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:21 PM on January 17, 2012


Glad folks are discussing the article. I wasn't sure what to make of it, which is why I posted it.

[Nonprofits] have to compete with the corporations. Under current laws, that isn't possible. PP is a non-profit; they can't sell X-Boxes or issue stock and I don't see how they're going to outsource their labor to China..

I'm not a lawyer (I work for a nonprofit, but not on these issues) but my layman's understanding is that nonprofits can do two out of three of those things already. They can't sell stock, but they can sell things to raise money for their activities (Livestrong, anyone?) and I don't think anything is preventing the Red Cross from outsourcing their call center to India. So long as the nonprofits' expenses roughly equal the revenues, and no dividends are being paid out, their tax exempt status is safe.

Which raises an interesting point. As someone noted above, Citizens United means that political spending can be counted as part of an organization's operating budget. So if I understand this correctly, a nonprofit raising more money just means they have to spend more on their political activities. Heck, if Planned Parenthood could manage to raise as much as Exxon (unlikely, I know) its spending might be less constrained than Exxon, because it has to spend those revenues and doesn't have to show a profit or pay its stockholders.
posted by postel's law at 1:28 PM on January 17, 2012


I think there's some confusion around the term non-profit. 'Tax-exempt nonprofit organizations categorized under IRC 501(c)(3) in federal law [i.e. 26 USC 501(c)(3)] are generally permitted to "lobby" to some extent, but are absolutely prohibited from engaging in "political activity."'

Other 501(c) corporations may be able to engage in political activity, but have IRS reporting guidelines that, AFAIK, have not been affected by the Supreme Court cases.

Planned Parenthood and its associated PAC are actually not-for-profits.
posted by muddgirl at 1:41 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Citizen United causes a loss of political expression for individuals within a company. Consider the money spent for a company's political expression in its own interests. Wouldn't it be better to use that money in higher wages for the company's employees so that they could use it for political expression on their own? If the company's political interests were so damn important to its existence, shouldn't the employees interests mostly align with them?

Or maybe the corporations are full of shit and want all the money and influence for themselves.
posted by charred husk at 1:42 PM on January 17, 2012


Whatever the specifics of the law are at the moment, the fact remains; profit-seekers accumulate the largest piles of cash. You can't compete with them unless you become like them.
posted by Clay201 at 1:51 PM on January 17, 2012


Ever since the eighties, the right has done everything it could to drive home the message that things are really very simple, and every time someone from the government tries to tell you things aren't really very simple, they're trying to cheat you. Look at how many people are absolutely convinced that if workers started getting paid more, we'd have massive runaway inflation and nobody wants that! When the historic example, is that people have more money, they spend more money, goods go flying off shelves, factories hire more workers...and the only time you'd expect inflation when things are already running at peak capacity, which they virtually never are, and certainly aren't right now.

This sort of only one moving part gets trotted out every time there's a push for some flavor of deregulation or privatization of something to government has been doing an OK job of. Look at the absurdest definition of socialism these days to see how far this has gotten.

Rather than try to explain the intricacies of the utter train wreck we now have (during which someone could point and scream that he's trying to swindle us and derail the whole thing), Colbert is speaking the truth with a jesters hat on. You can't mock him - that's his job. You can't accuse him of corruptly wielding the power he's been entrusted with - all he's been entrusted with is a late night comedy show. And he's carefully exposing all those uncomfortable subtleties that we've spent the last 30 years hearing are irrelevant. His brilliance is that he's made understanding the spider's web of corruption and deceit a critical part of getting the joke. But once people have gotten the joke, they're not going to forget about the corruption and deceit.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:01 PM on January 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


Corporations are people, my friend.

Mitt Romney has a secret
posted by homunculus at 2:29 PM on January 17, 2012


I really don't understand where people get the idea that CU says corporation=people. I thought the decision was just the recognition of certain rights that corporations, as well as individuals, enjoy (some of which are already well accepted from society, e.g., due process, right to own property). That is, just because we accept corporations have certain free speech rights doesn't mean the law treats corporations exactly like people. If that were true, wouldn't sale of a corporation violate the 13th amendment as an act of slavery?

Also, if corporations have no right to free speech, could federal bureaucrats enjoin Miramax, a corporation, from distributing a film that promotes, say, unions or communism or something, on the basis of a hypothetical state law banning the propagation of anti-U.S. views by corporations because Miramax is a corporation and thus, does not enjoy free speech protection? Under what other law do companies publishing the works of individual authors derive their speech rights? It's like people assume that corporations are just these SkyNet-like autonomous entities that have no individuals who control their speech.

I think all this leaves on the table is to what extent anyone, a corporation or an individual, should be able to contribute and control a political campaign through monetary contributions or otherwise. And before you say, money =/= speech, remember to pay your cable provider for the internet service you are using to read and comment in this thread. They overlap quite a bit, almost always.
posted by gagglezoomer at 3:00 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The whole reason for Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart's existence as comedy shows is to point out ridiculous situations in current events.

Well, sort of. The Daily Show's focus is exclusively on media coverage of current events, taking down any and all who are ridiculous or stupid or otherwise mockable with the way they are approaching what should be straightforward news coverage. He's an equal-opportunity clown, and he is never funnier than when the rest of the media is full of idiocy disguised as coverage.

The Colbert Report is, specifically, a takedown of bloviating windbag commentator shows a la The O'Reilly Factor and Rush Limbaugh. The character of Colbert is always bending the truth to serve his own selfish world vision, and will do anything to move himself to the foreground while trying to affect the worldviews of his viewers.

They may feed off of current events, and may do original satire pieces based on current events, but with few exceptions they don't actually work directly with the current events themselves. It's all based on what others are already doing with them, and there's plenty of ridiculousness there to work with.
posted by hippybear at 3:16 PM on January 17, 2012


I like how the article ascribed incredible effectiveness to Colbert's show. That would be awesome were it true. (I'd like to think it is, true, but that's wishful.)
posted by JHarris at 3:55 PM on January 17, 2012


I really don't understand where people get the idea that CU says corporation=people.

It doesn't, but a number of (quite old) supreme court cases do. (see corporate personhood). Citizens United held that it was a constitutional right of corporations (because they're like people, see?) to engage in political speech.

If you don't think a corporation should be considered the same as a human citizen, you can argue that it is constitutional to limit the political speech of corporations.
posted by beerbajay at 4:04 PM on January 17, 2012


... brought to you by Concerntrolls United.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:51 PM on January 17, 2012


I see the strawman but no cogent argument.
posted by onesidys at 6:30 PM on January 17, 2012


It's not a strawman, which is an argument against a false position. It's a term that has been taken to mean something subtly different than its actual meaning, but it still holds. If Citizens United was overturned the problem would go away, so it's reasonable that people are using those words as a synonym for "corporations are people," since it's the combination of that ruling and the prior precedent that's causing the problem. Mitt Romney didn't help things with his flip "corporations are people" statement, either.

If corporate personhood were overturned instead of Citizens United, there would have to be a replacement for it -- perhaps the ad hoc creation of a new kind of entity that could be sued and bear debts like people but clearly not have the constitutional rights of people. But such a ruling might have subtle advantages, too. It'd overturn some carts, for sure.
posted by JHarris at 8:03 PM on January 17, 2012


E.D. Kain? Really?
posted by bardic at 8:14 PM on January 17, 2012


For those people arguing against corporate political rights, suppose a dozen (or a hundred, or a thousand) people get together to lobby for something. Do you not want them to incorporate? Because if they don't incorporate they'll be a partnership and every one will be individually and jointly liable for the partnership's actions. If they get sued then every one of them will potentially be a defendan. You might say that this is a good thing, that people ought to be responsible for the causes they support - but it will certainly scare many people off and it will mean that campaigns run by collectives of poor people are vulnerable in ways that wealthy individuals are not.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:17 PM on January 17, 2012


suppose a dozen (or a hundred, or a thousand) people get together to lobby for something

Then you need to be able to distinguish between different kinds of groups. A group of real, living people lobbying for something is distinctly different from the lobbying of an inherently profit-oriented incorporeal undead entity. Specifically, a corporation (currently) gets all the benefits of being a person, but few of the downsides (working, dying, having a family to support).
posted by beerbajay at 4:28 AM on January 18, 2012


If you don't think a corporation should be considered the same as a human citizen...

But if you do think a corporation is the same as a human citizen, you have no problem with my personally shooting a man in Reno (just to watch him die), then disincorporating and reincorporating and, thereby, being legally innocent.

"Corporation - n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility." was a great joke - in the 1890's.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:54 AM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


A group of real, living people lobbying for something is distinctly different from the lobbying of an inherently profit-oriented incorporeal undead entity.

How do you distinguish a profit-oriented corporation lobbying for laws that are in its interest from a "group of real, living people lobbying for something"? If it's the for-profit thing, how do you restrict the formation of a non-profit by a for-profit to accomplish the same thing? And if you prohibit that action, strictly, how do you restrict the formation of a non-profit advocating for its interest by a group of individuals who share a common interest in seeing a law changed or passed? Can they not "profit" from a positive outcome? What is "profit"? As raised earlier, what if the group is composed of poor people and we do not allow them to form a corporation or LLC to produce a short political film about say, unionization, something very related to their own future "profit" if it were promoted and accepted by society. Won't the rich who are naturally opposed to their interest just frivolously threaten to sue them individually for libel or copyright infringement if they release the film (basically threatening to bankrupt each and every one of them)? Corporations provide the unique benefit that you cannot lose more than your investment therein, that is why they are important. Double-edged sword there.
posted by gagglezoomer at 8:06 AM on January 18, 2012


I assume everyone here is outraged that Google is using its corporate platform to advocate against a particular piece of legislation today, right?
posted by BobbyVan at 9:36 AM on January 18, 2012


We should be, if we continue to ignore the difference between electioneering and advocacy/lobbying, which are, in every other situation, treated differently.
posted by muddgirl at 9:38 AM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


...and ignoring that little bit of a derail, I don't understand why we can set direct contribution limits but not general spending limits. If money is speech - if Muddgirl LLC can donate unlimited amounts of money to organizations which engage in electioneering, why Muddgirl LLC can't donate unlimited amounts of money directly to a campaign. Or is it just that such laws haven't been challenged in court yet?
posted by muddgirl at 9:40 AM on January 18, 2012


if we continue to ignore the difference between electioneering and advocacy/lobbying

"VO: Call President Obama, and tell him to stop pursuing job-killing policies. PaidforbyCitizensforaBrighterFuture."

Electioneering or advocacy?
posted by BobbyVan at 9:44 AM on January 18, 2012


"Call your representative and tell him to stop supporting X because it will kill jobs": Advocacy Ad - OK under McCain-Feingold

"Call Obama and tell him to stop killing jobs" - "Issue" Ad - outlawed under McCain Feingold within something like 60 days of an election involving Obama, but OK outside that window. Law was overturned.

"Obama kills jobs" - Electioneering - outlawed under McCain-Feingold within a certain period, but OK outside that window. Law was overturned.
posted by muddgirl at 10:17 AM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Law was overturned.
Law was overturned.

So... in this post CU, post McCain-Feingold era, there no practical legal difference today between electioneering and advocacy. Am I reading you correctly?
posted by BobbyVan at 12:28 PM on January 18, 2012


Even in an era post-McCain-Feingold, there are practical, legal differences between electioneering and advocacy. I discussed some of them above.

When it comes to Muddgirl, LLC, I can now engage in both of them. ( However, for some reason I am still prohibited from donating more than a certain amount directly to candidates.)

If I were Muddgirl Rights Group, 501(c)(4), organized for the general social benefit of my community, I could engage in lobbying/advocacy but not significant electioneering.

I'm not an attorney, so this is just my understanding of the situation.
posted by muddgirl at 12:42 PM on January 18, 2012


I liked it so much better back in the day when things were simpler. When someone who was part of an organization founded by a guy who got shot in a plastic explosives deal gone wrong before speaking to the UN on Iran's dime to say how horrible the United States was would just send me a mass mailing warning that Obama hung out with terrorists.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:53 PM on January 18, 2012


However, for some reason I am still prohibited from donating more than a certain amount directly to candidates.

For some reason? Like corruption? Let me just right a half million dollar check to politician X, so that they'll amend legislation just so.

I get there there are some blurry lines and implications on both sides that we need to consider, but the blurry line I'm worried about is the line between paying money to a politician so that they'll vote your way (you know, bribery) and spending money on behalf of someone so that they'll vote your way. The contribution limit was a way to keep that vaguely democratic. Not everyone can give $2500 to a candidate, but that money isn't enough to turn a politicians head unless it's from lots of donors.
posted by Garm at 12:35 AM on January 19, 2012


We should just switch the electoral system to reality TV. 10 hopefuly would-be Senators are in a house! Who will get voted off?
Follow your local Congressman as he trains for his big MMA fight to get his state-focused regulatory bill passed!
And the advertising streams would help balance the economy.
posted by Theta States at 5:58 AM on January 19, 2012


1021 Days After
posted by mrgrimm at 10:18 AM on January 20, 2012


Stephen Colbert is winning the war against the Supreme Court and Citizens United
posted by homunculus at 7:59 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Citizens United catastrophe
posted by homunculus at 9:16 AM on February 6, 2012


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