Two years ago today, the US Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people and money is speech, overturning two decades of precedent prohibiting direct corporate and union expenditures in political campaigns. The decision has been widely recognized as an encroachment on our democracy and elections, with criticism coming from nearly every corner of the political world.
But is it really as bad as all that? Surely the Supreme Court wouldn’t have made a decision like this without considering all the possible legal consequences, right?
Wrong. In Michigan’s statewide elections in 2010, it wasn’t the Tea Party that swept Gov. Snyder and radical Republican majorities in the State House and Senate into power, but a wave of corporate special interest cash that would only increase if Michigan’s campaign finance laws were weakened. Consider:
- In December 2009, a political action committee started by the Republican Governors Association called RGA Michigan 2010 materialized out of thin air and spent nearly $8.4 million on the election, 54 percent more than any other PAC had poured into any election in Michigan’s history. A remarkable 98 percent of its donors were from outside the state.
- The Michigan Chamber of Commerce returned the favor by giving $5.37 million in 2010 to the Republican Governors Association’s 527 committee, based in Washington, DC.
- They split this incredible sum over two July-to-June tax years. This was to avoid spending so much on “issue advocacy” in one year that they would have been forced to revert to a 527 committee, in which case they would be required to disclose their contributors.
- The RGA Michigan PAC gave $5.2 million of their out-of-state cash to the Michigan Republican Party, and funneled $3 million to the campaign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
- The RGA’s central 527 committee reported spending $26.4 million on misleading advertising with improper disclosure through Target Enterprises, coincidentally the same firm used by Candidate Rick Snyder during the primary election.
This head-spinning money shuffle was necessary to swing Michigan’s elections because Michigan campaign finance laws prevent corporations from donating directly to candidates or political parties. But thanks to the Citizens United decision, Michigan’s restrictions are susceptible to a legal challenge, on the grounds that they unfairly discriminate against corporations. Even Gov. Snyder argued for stricter campaign finance laws in his State of the State address this week – and numerous polls have shown that citizens overwhelmingly support more disclosure and stricter limits on corporate spending in elections.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe that corporations should be able to unfairly influence our elections by spending unlimited amounts of money and calling it speech. And now, two years later you can get involved by signing a petition and remembering in November to stand up for getting money out of politics.