On Friday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell will be speaking at the American Enterprise Institute to discuss First Amendment rights and attempts to diminish them through campaign finance reform.
Much of the attention on this subject recently has been on the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which removed some limitations on political contributions from corporations and labor unions. However, many on the Left have been attacking this decision, inaccurately representing it, and turning it into a bogeyman for everything they dislike about politics. Of course, last week’s historic election in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker prevailed against an attempt to recall him from office, was no exception.
In an important op-ed today, former appeals court Judge Michael McConnell explains that Citizens United was not the reason that Walker won, as some have claimed. Judge McConnell writes, “In the wake of Wisconsin’s recall election, the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell and other commentators disappointed with the result are not blaming the electorate or the apparent success and popularity of Gov. Scott Walker’s reforms. Instead, they are singling out the Supreme Court’s 2010 campaign-finance decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, as the reason for Mr. Walker’s 7-1 spending advantage.
“Citizens United held that associations of Americans, including corporations and labor unions, have a First Amendment right to make independent expenditures in support or opposition to candidates for public office. In a sense, Citizens United did have an important effect on the Wisconsin election. But the effect was almost exactly the opposite of what many pundits imply.
“Labor unions poured money into the state to recall Mr. Walker. . . . Little or none of these independent expenditures endorsing a candidate would have been legal under federal law before Citizens United.”
“By contrast,” Judge McConnell writes, “the large spenders on behalf of Mr. Walker were mostly individuals. . . . These donations have nothing to do with Citizens United. Individuals have been free to make unlimited independent expenditures in support of candidates since the Supreme Court case of Buckley v. Valeo (1976). . . . For the most part . . . Mr. Walker’s direct, big-ticket support came from sources that have been lawful for decades.”
Importantly, he points out, “His opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, got his support primarily from labor unions, whose participation was legitimized by Citizens United. Without that decision so demonized by the political left, Mr. Barrett would have been at even more of a financial disadvantage.”
Bursting a popular liberal talking point, McConnell explains, “Corporations rarely make independent expenditures during candidate elections in their own name, because the ads offend customers, workers and shareholders. And direct corporate contributions to candidates tend to be split more or less evenly between the two parties, largely neutralizing their effect. But unions have no compunctions against running campaign ads, and almost all of their money goes to Democrats.”
In sum, Judge McConnell says, “[T]he Supreme Court’s much-maligned and misunderstood decision in Citizens United was not the cause of Scott Walker’s financial advantage. It helped his Democratic opponent.”