Opinion: Thank Citizens United for the Bloody Battle in South Carolina

Friday, January 20, 2012 - 11:14 AM

Activists rally for a constitutional amendment overturning the Citizens United decision. (Public Citizen/flickr)

Newt Gingrich opened the final debate before the South Carolina primary lashing out against the media—ABC for running a story about his former marriage and CNN for leading with a question on it. After the standing ovation from the debate attendees, all three rivals declined to take shots on this issue.

Toward the end of the debate, each candidate answered one choice they would have made differently in the campaign. While Santorum and Paul, who are dropping far behind an increasingly close Romney-Gingrich contest, said they wouldn't change a thing, Romney voiced that he would have redirected every moment he spent criticizing his fellow Republicans against President Obama.

From those two moments, you might think these guys—now only four of them—all really like each other, or at least are living up to Reagan's oft-quoted and equally oft-ignored maxim: "Thou shall not criticize fellow Republicans."

Good thing they don't have to viciously assault each other. Their Super PACs can do that for them.

January 21st is a fitting date for the South Carolina Primary. On this date two years ago, the Supreme Court overturned a century of precedent to allow unlimited corporate dollars into independent campaigns on behalf of (but not coordinated with, no definitely not) candidates. And on this date tomorrow, two men whose Super PACs have been savaging each other in overdrive will wrangle to come in first in the primary whose victor often becomes the Republican nominee.

(Although after Iowa's counting snafu, what really counts as a "victory" in these things anyway?)

The various Super PACs unleashed by a decision two years ago may do an ultimate disservice to the Republican Party, which benefitted more from the rule change in the 2010 election. This year's rough-and-tumble primary is bloodying up the eventual nominee even before he steps into the ring with an enormously-funded incumbent President, who will likely have Super PACs on his side as well…if the Republican is able to stand by that point. Hoisted on his own petard, as Shakespeare would have it.

That's not to say Super PACs are good for Democrats. In general, they are just bad for democracy. That's why it's intriguing to see, after their own jousting, that Elizabeth Warren and Senator Scott Brown's teams planned a meeting to discuss an armistice. Whether they can rein in outside spending is unclear, but even trying to would be a noble effort on both their parts.

Whether these Super PACs really steer the outcome of the South Carolina Primary is anyone's guess. But they've had another impact: making Republican voters around the country disgusted at the distorting and vicious form of political discourse made possible by Citizens United. So if you're not in South Carolina voting on Saturday, here's something you can do today and tomorrow—join the tens of thousands of Americans of all political stripes in protesting Citizens United and calling for an end to corporate influence in politics.

Republicans and Democrats are both tired of endless streams of unaccountable ads—and of the political favor these corporations seem to purchase (or at least rent) from our elected officials. Citizens United made it worse. And while it's not clear whether it will be better for Mitt or Newt tomorrow, there is a chance to make it better for all Americans by joining the actions today and through the weekend.

And to send us into the weekend on a lighter note, here's a video that will direct you to the actions with a smile:


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Comments [3]

Roy Henderson from whitleyville

The fact that WYNC, in general...continues to carry a "discussion" of Citizens United resulting in PAC's. The intensive scrutiny, devotion of broadcast time and undue programmatic analysis within individual media stations/publishers is an insult to the citizenry.

To not report the effects, impacts of PAC's would be remiss. The profound overkill in such reporting is an insult to native intelligence of the citizen. Why continue to dignify a political farce, a congressional ploy, a judicial patronage by reporting a quite so obivous corporate participation in domestic politics.

Might this "journalistic" time, budget and effort be more effectively used in terms of citizen voting, lack of voting...perhaos even disenfranchising voters?

Jan. 22 2012 10:44 AM

"...making Republican voters around the country disgusted at the distorting and vicious form of political discourse made possible by Citizens United".

Of course the vicious distortion of conservative candidates didn't exist before Citizens United and shocked and horrified progressives if it did in our historically civil political discourse.
If corporate money is a concern than why no concern that a sitting President uses public funded events and trips to politically chastise his opposition in explicit ways and even uses a Joint Session of Congress for political purposes?

Jan. 21 2012 11:13 AM
Brian Denton from New York City

Indeed. The ability of citizens to organize themselves to produce political advocacy has no place in a free society.

Jan. 21 2012 07:21 AM

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