In a press release from President Barack Obama’s administration last week, campaign manager Jim Messina announced Obama’s disdain for the Citizens United ruling. The release, titled “We Will Not Play by Two Sets of Rules,” clarified that while corporate super PAC funding is dangerously altering the fabric of our democracy, the Obama campaign has no option but to turn to Priorities USA Action, the super PAC formed to counter the millions funneled into its GOP counterpart.
The press release’s title was essentially contradicted by its ultimate message: We will play by two sets of rules, but only because we have to. The 2012 elections are the first presidential elections to be affected by the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling of 2010. The ruling opened the floodgates for corporate funding for campaigns, allowing for corporate personhood to move into the political sphere.
Messina is correct in asserting the ruling has created a “trend toward a political system increasingly dominated by big-money interests,” but corporate personhood in campaign finance has farther reaching effects than just deepening the pockets of politicians with corporate cash.
In a Free Press report entitled “Citizens Inundated,” authored by Timothy Karr investigated the link between negative ad campaigning, the overwhelming focus of super PAC donations and political discourse. Broadcast corporations like CBS Corp. and Media General will rake in close to $3 billion in political ads this year, paid for by corporations like the aforementioned. These corporations ultimately benefit in the breakdown of democracy, which explains why in an average 30-minute newscast, 4 minutes and 24 seconds of political ads stack up next to the 1 minute and 43 seconds of election news coverage, according to a University of Wisconsin study.
Corporate interests in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign have directly affected recall efforts against his administration. The ties between the Koch brothers and Walker have been apparent since day one, but who else has contributed to the $12 million raised since the beginning of the recall efforts last year?
Foster Friess, a UW graduate and conservative businessmen, a major financer of Rick Santorum and formerly Mitt Romney’s campaign, donated $100,000 in December 2011 directly to Walker. He was applauded at a private Koch brothers’ event for his nearly $1 million donation to the Kochs’ political activities, which have clearly bolstered Walker’s campaign.
Friess is in the company of several out-of-state donors to Walker’s campaign, who have risen to the substantive recall efforts with corporate-backed funding. Richard Uihlein, president of U-Line Shipping Company, donated close to $200,000 to Walker in the past year. U-Line Shipping just recently relocated its headquarters to Wisconsin after being offered millions in refundable income tax credits as an incentivizing, state-funded “Enterprise Zone.” Uihlein’s massive donations and move to Wisconsin paint a clear picture of how to buy politics with a hefty check in hand.
The combination of unlimited corporate spending and the breakdown of media reporting has created the perfect storm for a breakdown of democracy. This election season has been and will be one of the ugliest to date, and politicians are increasingly turning to corporate agendas because they have no other choice. Obama’s press release, though admitting to contradiction, was also an admission of guilt. Obama, along with all candidates who cringe at the thought of corporate interests dominating elections, can’t take negative ad campaigns lying down. They’ve found themselves in a political quagmire, where refusing super PAC support is political suicide.
If money is free speech, as the Citizens United ruling stipulates, then the richest are the loudest. If corporations can directly buy politicians and the media, “we the people” might as well be “we the wealthy.”
Meher Ahmad (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a junior majoring in international studies and Middle East studies.