Citizens United Becomes the Left's All-Purpose Excuse

Tuesday night, watching the election returns from Wisconsin was an object lesson in a few areas.  On both CNN and MSNBC, the pundits and hosts proved they cannot divide.  Flashed on their screens were comparisons of total spending on the governor's race that showed $45 million in total for Scott Walker, and but $9 million for the poor beleaguered forces of Tom Barrett, the candidate of  "the people" (the unions).  Of course, the unions' direct or in-kind spending throughout the recall effort, variously estimated at $20 million on the governor's race alone, was excluded from the comparison.  In any case, the geniuses of the left, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O'Donnell, and Ed Schultz among them, all bemoaned this 7-to-1 or 8-to-1 spending disparity, all a result of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.  One would think that 45 divided by 9 is not a tough calculation.

But the bigger confusion concerned Citizens United.  It turns out, of course, that not a dollar that made its way into the Walker or Barrett campaign would have been kept out had Citizens United gone the other way at the Supreme Court.  Citizens United related not to contributions to candidates' campaigns, but to contributions by corporations and unions to organizations that made independent expenditures.  In Wisconsin, Walker outraised Barrett by $30 million to $4 million.  This occurred in part because Walker raised money for months before he knew who his opponent would be.  Also, Wisconsin law, both before Citizens United and after, allows a governor to raise unlimited contributions for such a recall effort.  

Barrett had to raise money for the Democratic primary fight and then raise more in the short period before the recall vote, with lower limits on the maximum size of his contributions, also as set by Wisconsin law.  Were a Republican effort made to recall a Democratic governor in Wisconsin, the exact same limits for both the governor and the recall opponent would have been in place, favoring the Democratic incumbent.  The outside party expenditures favored Walker by $15 to $5 million without counting the union money, and favored the recall effort by $25 million to $15 million, with the union money included.

In other words, the outside expenditures favored Barrett and the recall, after including the union contributions.  The unions spent a lot of money before the Democratic candidate was known, to gather the roughly one million signatures that were sufficient to generate the recall election and then to help their preferred candidate in the Democratic primary (who lost).  It is entirely artificial to include only union money in the one month after Barrett was nominated.

Greg Sargent, a left-wing columnist for the Washington Post, admitted that the Walker/Barrett funding disparity had its roots in state  law:

Walker, meanwhile, has benefitted from the state's election finance rules that allowed his campaign to raise unlimited contributions from individuals after recall petitions were filed in November 2011. His challengers could take no more than $10,000 from individuals.

Note of course, the word "individuals," not "corporations" or "unions."  The big-money donors to Walker, in a few cases, were the same individuals who gave to the Republican Governors Association, which provided over $4 million to support Walker.  But again, the money came from individuals.  The Democratic Governors Association could have raised big gifts from George Soros or Jeffrey Katzenberg to back Barrett.  There was nothing in the law before or after Citizens United that prevented the left's big donors from backing Barrett, other than Barack Obama trying to suck up all the available cash.

Blaming Citizens United for the decisive Walker victory is nothing more than a smokescreen to cover up the fact that most Wisconsin voters were tired of 15 separate, very divisive, and angry recall campaigns, all mounted because of unhappiness among some voters with some of Walker's policies since he took office.  Most people think you get your next shot at an elected official when the candidate runs for re-election.  Recalls of governors are more like impeachments -- something that is done to address corruption, or other criminal behavior (applicable to most recent governors of neighboring Illinois, for instance).

So too, the left is unwilling to consider that its side might have lost on the merits -- that Walker has done a good job, addressing the state's deficits, and eliminating some of the imbalances between public- and private-sector benefit packages for workers.  The changes to public employee collective bargaining rights have had their most dramatic result in the number of union members who have chosen to continue with their union dues (and membership) now that said dues are not automatically deducted and then paid by the state to the unions.  It looks as if more than half of AFSCME members opted out.  Some of them may have decided that the extra money they will have from not paying union dues might help pay for the extra health care or pension costs they now have to account for (still pretty modest by comparison with private-sector workers).  Some of them may even realize that the additional contributions they are making are a major reason why some of them still have jobs, since the alternative to the higher contribution levels was layoffs of public-sector workers.

Ed Schultz does not understand it, but it is not that difficult to understand why some union household members (38% according to the not very reliable exit polls) voted for Walker.  This number includes private-sector union workers, who prefer private-sector job growth, as opposed to higher state spending to provide more salary and benefits to public-sector employees.

On Thursday came a new campaign finance horror story for the left, and again it had nothing to do with Citizens United.  Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee outraised Barack Obama and the Democratic National Committee, $76 million to $60 million, in May.  These were not contributions that were in any way a result of the Citizens United decision.  Rather, the circumstances seem to reflect the fact that there is much greater enthusiasm this time around on the Republican side than there was in 2008, another conclusion the left is unwilling to accept, since they want to believe that it is just the plutocrat conservative billionaires, such as the Koch brothers, who are destroying the country with their big contributions.  

Romney's amazing haul in May came in under the radar.  There were no flashy events with Bill Clinton or Hollywood celebrities.  There were no auctions to contribute $3 and have a one-in-5 million chance to meet George Clooney or Sarah Jessica Parker in his or her home.  However, the Romney campaign might consider whether it can raise a lot of $3 contributions from people who do not want to meet Anna Wintour.

One final point on the money disparity in Wisconsin.  People on the left seemed to think it unfair that they were outspent.  That has just not been part of the natural order of things over the last half-decade.  The left conveniently forget that in the 2008 presidential campaign, their candidate Barack Obama was the first major party candidate to opt out of public financing of the general election campaign.  The good government pro-public finance crowd smiled all through September and October of 2008, when Obama outspent McCain for the presidency, not some governor's race, by 5-to-1.  Do you think, just maybe, all that money may have contributed to Obama's victory or to the margin of victory, not even to mention the contribution value of all the free love provided to Obama by the network news programs, morning shows, and soft media, such as Oprah?

The left is unwilling to accept that a majority of American voters might not be with them, and that ordinary Americans (not just the ultra-rich) might contribute to Republicans.  The start of the general election cycle is providing evidence that 2012 will not be  a replay of 2008.

Richard Baehr is co-founder and chief political correspondent of American Thinker.

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