California reactions to the SCOTUS ruling

There’s a lot of California buzz about today’s 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that government can’t limit corporations, unions and organizations from spending to support or oppose political candidates.

They still can’t give money directly to federal candidates or national party committees, but they can now put as much money as they want, whenever they want into “independent expenditures” for or against a candidate. Critics say the ruling let moneyed special intetests do as they please to drown out dissenting opinions.

For example, Courage Campaign Executive Director Rick Jacobs said that the court not only has “announced that democracy is for sale to the highest bidder,” but that Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurrence indicates a desire to eliminate campaign finance disclosure laws, too – and he used California as an example…

Clarence ThomasAmici’s examples relate principally to Proposition 8, a state ballot proposition that California voters narrowly passed in the 2008 general election. Proposition 8 amended California’s constitution to provide that “[o]nly marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Any donor who gave more than $100 to any committee supporting or opposing Proposition 8 was required to disclose his full name, street address, occupation, employer’s name (or business name, if self-employed), and the total amount of his contributions.
Disclaimer and disclosure requirements enable private citizens and elected officials to implement political strategies specifically calculated to curtail campaign-related activity and prevent the lawful, peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights.
Now more than ever, [disclosure and disclaimer rules] will chill protected speech because – as California voters can attest – “the advent of the Internet” enables “prompt disclosure of expenditures,” which “provide[s]” political opponents “with the information needed” to intimidate and retaliate against their foes.
I cannot endorse a view of the First Amendment that subjects citizens of this Nation to death threats, ruined careers, damaged or defaced property, or pre-emptive and threatening warning letters as the price for engaging in “core political speech, the ‘primary object of First Amendment protection.’”

Today’s majority chose to leave disclosure requirements in place, but Jacobs said Thomas’ take “is extremely troubling. His opinion effectively attempts to hide the true beliefs and intentions of the forces behind Proposition 8 from the American public. This can only help the many anti-equality organizations seeking to use unlimited financial resources to take away fundamental rights at the ballot box. We aren’t going to let them get away with it.”

“The Courage Campaign is participating in the boycott of the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, partly in response to Doug Manchester’s large donations to the effort to get Proposition 8 on the ballot,” Jacobs continued. “We believe that such actions are a form of protected speech and are legitimate politics. We intend to launch other, similar campaigns against corporations that try to use their wealth to distort our democracy.”

Lots more California feedback on the Supreme Court’s decision, after the jump…

From Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove:

“To suggest that corporations should have a limitless ability to finance elections is one of the most disturbing Supreme Court rulings in recent memory. Today the Supreme Court essentially ruled that corporations have most of the same constitutional rights as human beings. What next? Do they have the right to vote? Do they have the right to marry?

“Large corporations in America already have far too much influence over our public discourse, and there should be no doubt that bottomless corporate accounts can crowd out the free speech of individual Americans. This ruling even permits businesses controlled by foreign governments to spend as much money as they want influencing American elections.

“I have begun discussions with my Congressional colleagues to see if there is anything we can do curtail the damage to our country that will result from this ruling.”

From Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto:

“It is an unfortunate truism that candidates who raise the most money win elections. By allowing corporations unlimited access to their wallets, the Supreme Court today has undermined the principle of the ‘will of the people’ in favor of the ‘will of the corporation.’ Corporations do not vote for candidates – people do. We need to limit, not expand, the perceived and real influence of corporate money in politics and the distrust that perception breeds. Throughout my political career I’ve worked to stem this influence and I’m deeply saddened by today’s ruling.

“It was a hard fought struggle to enact the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform. The Supreme Court has upheld this law for years. With this decision, the Supreme Court has thumbed its nose at precedent, at the Congress, and most importantly the will of the people. This is an enormous step in the wrong direction.”

From Daniel Newman, executive director of Berkeley-based money-in-politics watchdog group MAPLight.org:

Daniel Newman“A river of money underlies all decisions in Congress and in Sacramento. This week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Citizens United v FEC case means this river will flood further with corporate campaign donations. We will still be electing the best fundraisers, rather than the best leaders.
“MAPLight.org’s research has repeatedly shown that politicians’ relentless fundraising has a payoff to the interest groups that provide the funds. We find that on issue after issue, how lawmakers vote aligns with the interest groups that fund their campaigns. …
“Do legislators vote a certain way because they received money, or do they receive money because they vote certain way? Either way, interest groups are still buying votes. Even in cases where a legislator does not change his or her views, legislators favorable to industry interests raise more money to campaign, to conduct polls, to buy ads, and to get elected. Congress, and Sacramento, are bought and biased in favor of the interest groups that fund campaigns, even if no individual politician changes their beliefs or their vote.”

UPDATE @ 11:57 A.M. FRIDAY: California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring just now issued his statement on the court’s ruling:

“We are very pleased the U.S. Supreme Court is moving in the direction of more freedom and less restriction when it comes to Americans expressing themselves in politics, whether individually or collectively. Yesterday’s decision was a good one.

“Yet, until the Court revisits the draconian limits the McCain-Feingold law places on political parties engaged in activity unrelated to federal contests, the net effect of the decision is to bias the political system in favor of corporate and labor union independent expenditures, and away from open, democratically governed political parties.

“This is an important distinction. Political parties in America are broad based, democratically governed, and far more transparent in their operation than so-called independent expenditure committees. A system which is rightly open to independent expenditures by not-for-profits, corporations and labor unions is just, but discriminating against open and democratically governed political parties is wrong.

“This principle is at the core of our legal challenge to current federal law in RNC/CRP vs. FEC, which is now before a three judge panel in the District of Columbia. We expect our case to be heard at the U.S. Supreme Court within a year, and look to the court to both open the political system further while ending the accidental bias against Americans engaging in political speech through political parties.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RR, Uninvited Columnist

    The Courage Campaign is an exercise in self-righteous bigotry. They will deny to anyone who asks that they are bigots because they are “oppressed.” I personally contend Prop. 8 was a bad idea but I oppose stirring resentment or worse, hatred, against its advocates. The Courage Campaign practices intimidation and calls it free speech.

  • Elwood

    Josh, you must have a direct connection to the Berkeley fruitcake network. You sure give them lots of exposure on this blog.

    There must be a couple of people out there who agree with the Supremes’ decision.

    Too bad you didn’t seek any of them out. But you make no pretense of being objective, do you?

  • Elwood

    What RR said.

  • Ralph Hoffmann

    I may be Creatively Maladjusted, but the Supreme Court majority is nuts and wacko. To suggest that unions should have a limitless ability to finance elections is one of the most disturbing Supreme Court rilngs in recent memory. The Supreme Court ruled that unions have the same Freedom of Speech right as an individual.
    Does a union have the right to vote in a Presidential or Congressional Election? Does a union have a right to marry? Large unions in the USA already have far too much influence over our public discourse, and there should be no doubt that the bottomless union accounts can crowd out free speech of individual elections. Etc., etc., etc.
    I’ve discussed with my colleagues the idea that individuals in the June Primaries, and November General Elections vote for the candidates who have the fewest TV, Internet, and US Mail Ads, as a backlash.

  • Allan

    The law in uestion was passed back in 1907 and was part of Teddy Roosevelt’s “New progressivism” to partially curb corporate power. Recall that back in those days the Calif gov was a figurehead and SP (Southern Pacific) actually owned the state and governed accordingly due to their enormous financial influence and power.. That is why a REP congress and a REP President passed that law back in 1907. Are we headed back to the “bad old days?” Only time will tell.

  • RR, Uninvited Columnist

    The reactions of Reps. Eshoo and Garamendi are beautiful examples of tendentious speech that we’ve come to expect from progressive activists but are now gleefully spewed from politicians at the drop of a hat. Ms Eshoo’s ignorance of legal reasoning is breathtaking. M. Hoffmann rightly points to labor unions as a beneficiary of this ruling in addition to big bad corporate powers. The main consequence of this poorly conceived law (McCain-Feingold) has been to increase the pressure on elected officeholders to spend even more time in panhandling for contributions.
    You cannot separate cash from politicians; you can either hand it over with your thoughts or let them take it for themselves without your being aware of it.

  • John W.

    Great. So, under Clarence Thomas’s thinking, we shouldn’t even have the right to know who is paying for advertising for or against a candidate or issue — whether it’s PG&E or the prison guard union? How are we supposed to evaluate the credibility of the advertising if we don’t even know who is paying for it? Gives a whole new meaning the the phrase “blind justice!” Whatever happened to the public’s right to know? I don’t approve of the way disclosure was used to harrass contributors, as unfortunately occurred in the case of Prop. 8. Although I hasten to add that, if you’re going to pump $100k into a campaign, as the Utah mother of a business associate of mine did, you ought to be willing to stand up and be counted. But concerns about harrassment shouldn’t outweigh my right to know which corporation, union or trade association is sponsoring the political ads.