The Dernogalizer

February 18, 2010

Column on the Supreme Court’s Campaign Finance Decision

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 1:07 pm
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This past Tuesday, I had an op-ed out in the Diamondback about the Supreme Court’s recent decision that struck down significant portions of campaign finance laws.  My column is posted below.

I’d also like to note a recent article which found about 80% of Americans across all party lines are opposed to the court’s decision.

“A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that the vast majority of Americans are vehemently opposed to a recent Supreme Court ruling that opens the door for corporations, labor unions, and other organizations to spend money directly from their general funds to influence campaigns.

As noted by the Post’s Dan Eggen, the poll’s findings show “remarkably strong agreement” across the board, with roughly 80% of Americans saying that they’re against the Court’s 5-4 decision. Even more remarkable may be that opposition by Republicans, Democrats, and Independents were all near the same 80% opposition range. Specifically, 85% of Democrats, 81% of Independents, and 76% of Republicans opposed it. In short, “everyone hates” the ruling.”

Now for the column:

Supreme Court: Democracy for


By Matt Dernoga

Published: Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Right before we got back from winter break, the Supreme Court decided to give new speech rights to powerful corporations in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which struck down several campaign finance restrictions, namely decades-long restrictions that have limited campaign spending by corporations. In the 5-4 decision, the court ruled that corporations had the same rights as individuals when it came to political speech and companies can dip as far into their finances as they please to support or oppose candidates.

What’s most disturbing about this decision is that we have been badly in need of campaign finance reform that restricts corporate influence. Last year, when major health care, clean energy and financial reform legislation came up for votes, special interests spent huge swaths of money lobbying Congress.

Take clean energy as an example. With Congress considering clean energy and climate legislation to reduce dependence on foreign oil, create green jobs and decrease pollution, corporations sprang into action.

Oil and gas interests spent a record $154 million to try to mold this legislation to their liking.
The electric utility industry forked over about $134.7 million.

In contrast, environmental nonprofit groups spent at least $21.3 million.

Another disturbing case was Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) attempt to gut the Clean Air Act — because the last thing we would want is cleaner air. Murkowski’s amendment would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from having the authority to regulate carbon dioxide pollution. Following the money trail, I doubt she wrote it.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Duke Energy and Southern Co. donated at least $34,500 to her campaign and leadership political action committee this cycle. Jeffrey Holmstead, a lobbyist for the two companies, admitted to working with her staff on the phrasing of the measure.

I recall listening to the exasperation of an activist last year who was frustrated with the power special interests held in our government. He gave me a compelling metaphor. He used to work at a place where people always complained about the temperature in the room. Half were constantly too hot, and half were constantly too cold. The boss kept the thermostat locked up, and no one was allowed to touch it but him.

Then one day the boss said he was tired of all the complaining and workers could change the thermostat as much as they wanted. People would adjust the thermostat up or down, and a few minutes later they would say, “There, that’s much better.” What they didn’t know was that he had disconnected that thermostat, and the temperature was actually controlled by another behind some shelves.

That’s where the frustration with campaign finance and the Supreme Court decision comes from. A lot of people today are starting to feel our elections are like that false thermostat. We’re not happy with our leader, so we vote the other guy in and say, “There, that’s much better.” But in reality, things haven’t changed all that much.

Whether it’s health care, energy or financial reform, legislation is still being driven by whatever big business wants. The Supreme Court has put big business at ease. “Good thing they’re people, too.”

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com.


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