I’ve written pretty exhaustively recently about the problems I see with so-called campaign finance reform, focusing particularly on the chilling effects on political participation of compulsory disclosure, and on illiteracy about the basic tenets of the Citizens United v. FEC decision that lead to bad journalism. President Obama, who purports to be a constitutional scholar, has gotten the facts wrong on Citizens United before (deliberately, if you ask me):
So it’s not surprising to me that he got the basic facts wrong again yesterday during a live “Ask Me Anything" forum on popular message board site Reddit (my emphasis shown with italics):
suzmerk: What are you going to do to end the corrupting influence of money in politics during your second term?
PresidentObama: Money has always been a factor in politics, but we are seeing something new in the no-holds barred flow of seven and eight figure checks, most undisclosed, into super-PACs; they fundamentally threaten to overwhelm the political process over the long run and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens. We need to start with passing the Disclose Act that is already written and been sponsored in Congress — to at least force disclosure of who is giving to who [sic]. We should also pass legislation prohibiting the bundling of campaign contributions from lobbyists. Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t revisit it). Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of [sic] the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.
There he goes again, promising to repeal the First Amendment in his second term. But I digress.
There are two very curious and obvious mistakes in the president’s response to this loaded question:
- All donations to super PACs are reported, and the names of donors giving more than $200 are also disclosed; and
- Money spent on political speech may counter some political speech, but it doesn’t drown out “ordinary citizen” voices
As Brad Smith, former FEC commissioner and chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics puts it, “When Ross Perot spent his own money to run, he didn’t drown others out – he empowered them. When large donors supported independent expenditures promoting the [primary] campaigns of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich [in 2011 and 2012], they made the supporters of those candidates heard too.”
But President Obama insists you remain in the dark about “dark money” so you’ll enlist in his army and help destroy the political opposition. Please consider reblogging, retweeting, sharing on Facebook, or linking back to this post if you’re tired of President Enemies List’s incessant grandstanding.
See also this handy chart from the Source 2012 Tumblr, a joint project of the left-leaning Center for Responsive Politics and the left-leaning Center for Public Integrity, that details what was (and was not) at issue in recent, high-profile campaign finance court cases.