Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

On Super PACs and “Conservative” Columnsists


I’m going to revisit a writer whose work continues to demonstrate how non-conservatives conservatives have moved.  The Denver Post’s David Harsanyi opines on Super PACs and, according to his title, “free will”.  Like most other “conservatives”, he argues that free speech is critical to our way of life and the Supreme Court “conservatives'” pre-meditated choice to issue a decision that didn’t even deal with a case that was brought before them somehow increases free speech (in the form of money, of course).  He continues by lamenting that citizens don’t have this same freedom because they have to file reports with the federal government when they join with at least 11 other citizens to donate money to political campaigns.

The crocodile tears shed for citizens sounds good until you think about which citizens have the most money: those already contributing to Super PACs.  I don’t have a single friend or activist acquaintance that has the financial ability to donate tens of thousands or millions of dollars to any campaign or issue of their choice.  Therein lies the problem with the argument: do super-corporations (especially those based over-seas) have more freedom of speech than a citizen of the United States?  Should they have more freedom than we do?  I don’t think so.  But “conservatives” today do.

Note further that “conservatives” wouldn’t be extolling the virtues of Citizens United if their elite-blessed candidates weren’t expected to be the primary beneficiaries of the decision.  Such is the reality in the hyper-partisan environment those same “conservatives” have spent 50 years creating.

And how much does this columnist actually believe in “free will” anyway?  If the belief was consistent, free will would extend to all personal choices, including what women decide to do with their own bodies.  That is the crux of the matter: too many partisans – on both sides of the aisle – are only willing to push for “rights” and “freedoms” when it’s convenient for them to do so.  Consistency is another casualty of today’s hyper-partisanship.


6 thoughts on “On Super PACs and “Conservative” Columnsists

  1. What is it with you Americans and unexplained acronyms? Oh, I forgot, it’s like the so-called Baseball World Series in which the whole world plays baseball? Since David Harsanyi does not, would you care to explain what a PAC is?

    • Sorry, Martin. A PAC is a Political Action Committee – an entity created to solicit and bundle large sums of money as well as craft and release media advertising supporting or opposing political candidates and issues. PACs have been allowed under U.S. law for some time now. But there were transparency requirements so that viewers of the advertising could spend the time to research what the entity that created it was all about. Now, there are no names required so that people can donate as much money as they please and there is almost no opportunity to find out who they are and what their motivations are.

      • I could tell it was something to do with campaigning, but thanks for the clarification. Even with over 3 years to go now until the next General Election in the UK, the financing of election campaigns is a hot topic here too (or rather the question of donations to political parties).

        It is not an easy problem to solve unless you accept that all donations should be outlawed and all campaigning financed from a (limited) pot of public money. To me, this appears to be the only way to make it fair and incapable of being abused.

      • Martin – you are exactly correct. Public financing of campaigns is the only rational and fair solution available that I can see. Unfortunately, I see no chance of such a system being implemented any time soon.

        Perhaps after a few elections with Citizens United in place, Americans will see the damage done to the process and demand real change. But I can also see the effects of Citizens United turning even more people off from politics in general, which I think was one of the goals.

  2. Thanks for not taking offence at my original remarks. For the avoidance of any doubt, I was not complaining about your failure to explain PAC, I was mainly astonished that the piece by Harsanyi also assumed all readers would know what PAC meant.

    My gut feeling is that British websites and newspapers don’t do this; they always explain an acronym before using it (making no assumptions about the existing knowledge of their readers).

    However, I may be wrong, so will now look out for evidence one way or the other. In the interim, I would be delighted if you, or any of your readers wish to prove me wrong (i.e. show that we Brits to the same thing all the time).

    P.S. I know I could Google it but, what is Citizens United? 🙂

    • If you had called me stupid, I might have taken offence. 😉

      I think I’m an unusual American in that I realize there are other cultures around the world that are quite different from my own. I agree that American English contains too many acronyms – I frequently get annoyed when I hear people talk or read them write without explaining what they’re talking about. It’s a bad assumption to make that everybody is as interested in a topic as you are.

      That said, I’m a fairly typical American in that I don’t expend much energy exploring other cultures, yours for example. I have no idea whether or not British websites or newspapers do the same thing or not. Although, whenever I read British newspaper items (on the web), I don’t get the sense they write in too many acronyms or purposefully assume the reader “gets it” from the start.

      Citizens United was a U.S Supreme Court decision, made exactly 2 years ago today actually, that ostensibly overturned Congressional legislation and reversed previous court decisions regarding what entities could make political donations and what conditions were required for doing so. In reality, it enshrined a special kind of entity: "corporate personhood" – a status that confers First Amendment rights to corporations and unions by establishing that money = speech. The decision solidified a century's worth of Supreme Court rulings that were made to slowly bestow rights normally reserved for "natural persons" to entities that are anything but natural. Obviously, the increasing amount of rights given to corporations without much involvement of living, breathing citizens is worrisome to many liberals/progressives, especially given the restriction of rights put into place on those citizens in recent years.

      As such, there are grassroots efforts developing to push the U.S. House and Senate to pass a Constitutional Amendment defining what a "person" really is. That will be a long, hard slog and many doubt it will come to fruition.

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