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Citizens United Generally Opposed by Candidates Without Funds

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Yesterday, snug between an offer of “male enlargement” and a promotion for discount TGV tickets from Paris to Strasbourg (order now!), I received an email from Senator Sherrod Brown.

“The Supreme Court made a mess when it issued the Citizens United decision,” the email said. “Raise your voice in support of our amendment to overturn Citizens United by clicking here and adding your name today!”

Sen. Brown’s email has the sound of a bold policy proposal. In fact, like the other two emails, it is only an advertisement. The proposed constitutional amendment has zero chance of earning a two-thirds majority in congress and becoming law. As a political ploy, however, it belongs to a growing genre. (For instance, Maine Democrat Rep. Chellie Pingree proposed a similar amendment to overturn Citizens United yesterday, in the Huffington Post.)

Both Senator Brown and Rep. Pingree are victims of a relatively new phenomenon that has already begun to change the way campaigns are conducted. I am referring to the so-called Super PACs -- independent groups allowed, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision two years ago, to solicit and spend unlimited funds to promote a political agenda.

As the 2012 election season heats up this fall, and private corporations and individuals funnel unprecedented sums into political campaigns, we can count on hearing more empty talk about banning the Super PACs.

For Sen. Brown, who is running for reelection in Ohio, the avalanche has already begun. Out-of-state conservative groups have hammered Brown with more than $3 million worth of attacks. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce alone has sunk some $1.5 million into the race, with the 60 Plus Association, Crossroads GPS, and Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee each adding six-figure sums.

Meanwhile, President Obama has watched the Super PACs from afar. Last Monday, in an email to supporters titled “We Will Not Play by Two Sets of Rules,” campaign guru Jim Messina announced the President’s intention to support a Democratic Super PAC. It was a reversal of the campaign’s earlier stance. Messina explained that while the President remained strongly opposed to Citizens United, the campaign would not fight the GOP presidential nominee with one hand behind its back.

The truth is, if forced to choose between money and principle, most candidates would rather have money on their side. Principle is a weak defense against a negative campaign. Since Senator Brown has no hope of matching the conservative fundraising colossus dollar for dollar, the candidate might as well make a principled stand.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.