Citizens United is Now the Right’s Go-To Excuse for Labor Bashing

Here in the great state of California, corporate interests have been trying for years to pass a “paycheck protection” initiative that would prohibit unions from making payroll deductions for political purposes. They’ve failed every time, not because my fellow citizens are deliriously in love with public sector unions, but just because of the manifest unfairness of these things. Even people who aren’t crazy about unions have a hard time swallowing an initiative that deliberately cuts off labor at the knees but does nothing to stop corporate spending.

But they never stop trying, and their latest effort is Proposition 32, which is on the ballot this November. The LA Times reports that it’s way behind, mostly likely due to a brilliant ad that’s been running around the clock on local stations in these parts. You can read the whole piece if you’re interested, but I was especially charmed by this bit at the very end:

Although the measure would block the direct flow of money from corporations and unions to candidates, experts said businesses would be free to spend unlimited amounts on independent committees to boost or challenge candidates and ballot measures. Labor would be free to do likewise, but its fundraising mechanism would have been cut off.

“You can’t keep big money out of politics,” said Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at UC San Diego. “But you can make it harder for your opponent to raise money.”

The initiative’s backers acknowledge the measure’s limitations, saying they went as far as existing law allows. The U.S. Supreme Court ended limits on political spending through independent organizations in 2010. The court ruled such contributions to be free speech, protected by the Constitution.

“Anybody who wants to get serious about campaign finance reform runs right into all of the cases under the 1st Amendment,” said Michael Capaldi, a Republican attorney who helped draft Proposition 32.

Isn’t that great? Corporate interests are now using Citizens United as their go-to excuse for why they have no choice but to be unfair. We’d really like to end corporate spending, honest we would. But the Supreme Court won’t let us. It’s sad. But at least we can go halfway and end union spending, and half a loaf is better than none, right? We’re doing the best we can here, folks.

You could refloat the Titanic with the crocodile tears on display here. I can’t help but admire their chutzpah.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.