May 24, 2012

Senator McConnell Petitions Supreme Court To Uphold Citizens United, Claims Corporate Money Hasn’t Really Been Used In Elections

Senator McConnell Petitions Supreme Court To Uphold Citizens United, Claims Corporate Money Hasn't Really Been Used In Elections
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Republican leader of the Senate, and in all likelihood, the next Senate Majority Leader, thinks corporations deserve the right to spend limitless amounts in American elections. He was the point person in Congress fighting campaign reforms in the late 90s, and now, he’s begging the Supreme Court not to reverse its Citizens United ruling. In fact, he just petitioned the court. His argument, that corporations deserve political rights akin to regular Americans because they rarely exercise that right, is laughable.

Here’s the context. Late last year, the Montana high court, citing the state’s long history of corporate money corrupting politics, essentially defied the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and continued enforcing the state’s 100-year old law banning corporate involvement in state elections. The Supreme Court has blocked the Montana court’s decision pending on its own determination as to whether to formally hear the case this fall. Allowing a full argument in matter could allow the Court to reconsider the merits of the Citizens United decision, which opened the doors to corporate and union involvement in elections.

Republic Report took a look at McConnell’s amicus brief to the court, which encourages the justices to slap down Montana and uphold Citizens United. The brief hinges on the argument that since the Citizens United ruling in 2010, the two major elections — the 2010 midterm elections for Congress and the Republican presidential primaries — showcased no evidence of significant corporate involvement. McConnell’s lawyers prepared a set of tables to demonstrate his case. For some reason, they decided only to focus on the Republican primaries. In any case, McConnell displayed the spending records of the Super PACs supporting Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and so on and concluded:

And, as the data reveals, of the entire $96,410,614, 86.32% was contributed by individuals, 12.87% by privately held corporations and less than one percent — 0.81% — by public companies. […] As the data reflects, the Super PACs supporting three of the eight candidates received no corporate donations at all and six of the eight received none from public companies. Put another way, the much predicted corporate tsunami simply did not occur.

And that’s his entire argument. But it’s an absolute manipulation of the facts.

In reality, corporations have aggressively taken advantage of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling (and related rulings, such as FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life) to spend millions in attack ads and other electioneering efforts to influence elections. They have done so, however, largely through 501(c) organizations that do not have to disclose their donors. Although the media is obsessed with the idea of Super PACs, 501(c) groups actually spend more money and have had a far greater impact on competitive general elections. Most corporations do not want the bad publicity associated with directly influencing a campaign with shareholder money — so they spend through undisclosed 501(c) groups.

Here’s what McConnell cleverly chose to ignore in his brief, which only analyzed segmented Super PAC spending. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce dwarfed all other outside spending groups in 2010 by using its 100%-corporate funded budget to run television and radio ads to support big business candidates for Congress. The Chamber, a 501(c)(6) tax exempt entity, refused to disclose a single penny of its spending efforts. Similarly, other corporate-funded groups sprung to action in the wake of the court’s decision. The American Chemistry Council, a lobby funded by chemical corporations like DuPont and Dow Chemical, began airing election ads for candidates for the first time in 2010, and is now airing an aggressive multimillion dollar campaign ad effort for this election cycle. The NRA, funded in part by gun companies, followed suit as well. The Chemistry Council and NRA are both 501(c) groups.

The evidence McConnell submitted to the court is completely arbitrary. The true big spenders are 501(c) groups like the 60 Plus Association, American Future Fund, Americans for Job Security, etc. These groups could be funded by Fortune 100 companies; they could be funded by individuals. But we have no idea, so the numbers McConnell uses in his brief are meaningless.

Some senators get it. Last Friday, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) submitted a brief that argues that the Citizens United decision has led to an explosion in political spending, illegal coordination between candidates and “independent” political groups, and a slide towards completely opaque election spending. United Republic, the organization that sponsors Republic Report, has a petition urging the public to support the Whitehouse-McCain brief to overturn Citizens United.

Maybe McConnell omitted 501(c) groups because of his own close association with them. Crossroads GPS, the pro-Republican 501(c) group that dominated the 2010 election cycle and is now matching the Obama for President campaign in an ad war, is run by McConnell’s former chief of staff, Steven Law.

RELATED: Corporate Lobbying Group Asks Supreme Court Not To Use “Empirical Evidence” Of Corruption When Reconsidering Citizens United