Warren, Baker, environmental groups all on board
ON JANUARY 21, 2020, the famous US Supreme Court decision, Citizens United vs the Federal Election Commission (Citizens United), celebrated its tenth birthday! As the court decision matures, so do many of its original skeptics.
Massachusetts US Sen. Elizabeth Warren rose to prominence in 2012 by not using a super PAC to defeat incumbent US Sen. Scott Brown. She is now embracing her constitutional rights guaranteed by Citizens United by encouraging a closely aligned super PAC to spend money on her behalf as she campaigns for president of the United States. Warren’s super PAC will not disclose its donors until after Super Tuesday’s election in Massachusetts, cheating state Democratic voters of their right to know who is funding Warren’s Super PAC as they head to the polls on Tuesday.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a moderate-to-liberal Republican governor, is using a closely aligned super PAC run by his consultants to elect or defeat Democratic and Republican state candidates. The governor’s consultants are even interjecting the super PAC into Tuesday’s state primaries.
Baker is not the only well-known state politician from the statehouse to use a super PAC. From time to time, Speaker Robert DeLeo has dispatched his political arm with a super PAC to ensure he maintains his grip on the Democrat-dominated House of Representatives. Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick raised millions for a super PAC before he dropped out of the presidential primary without earning a single delegate.
Left-wing environmental groups, like the Environmental League of Massachusetts and “Global Warming Solutions,” enjoy their own super PACs. There are many worthy environmental needs that should be addressed in the state, but the purpose of these organizations is not to raise funds to clean rivers or establish parks, but to elect or defeat candidates for office.
Hard-working union employees have their dues taken from their paychecks to support super PACs in Massachusetts. Unions such as the Massachusetts Teacher Association and the Fireman’s Union operate super PACs. Even their AstroTurf funded public profile group, Rise Up Massachusetts, operates a super PAC.
Federal election rules allow union and corporate money to be donated to political action committees (PACs), which then can donate to federal candidates. Massachusetts state law only allows unions to donate directly to state candidates and to PACs. State law prohibits employers from donating to candidates and to PACs. Due to Citizens United, all entities are allowed to donate, as much as they want, to a super PAC. A super PAC (also known as an independent expenditure committee) is permitted to spend an unlimited amount of money and can raise unlimited funds to elect or defeat candidates for office. They cannot coordinate, unlike a regulator PAC. They cannot donate money to candidates or to party committees, unlike like a PAC. Massachusetts has approximately 276 PACs, of which only 23, or 8 percent, are super PACs.
About the only voices who oppose Citizens United are those who have never worked in the field of campaign finance law. Any lawyer familiar with the intricacies of campaign finance law will tell you Citizens United is the law of the land and, as such, more rights are equally enjoyed by individuals, employers, non-profits, and unions.
Citizens United is often misunderstood and rarely properly explained. Its veiled by many on the left, even though every candidate for president has benefited from it. It has easily survived legal challenges and overreach from restrictive campaign finance regulators and state legislatures.
At its core is the principal that money equals speech. However, not all speech is derived from money. Social media has allowed any Tom, Dick, and Harry to have a platform for their speech. And not all super PAC spending makes a meaningful impact in elections. Just look at governor Jeb Bush’s super PAC, at the time one of the largest the country has ever seen. His super PAC ultimately proved ineffective.
We can all be sympathetic to the outsized influence some with the most means have on our political process. Former New York mayor Bloomberg is worth more than many state governments and he would never be a viable Democratic candidate for president if he wasn’t worth $60 billion. He’s one of the few candidates that can withstand a tough debate performance because he shows up a to knife fight with a wallet. Ultimately, the Democratic voters will decide if Bloomberg’s money will have an impac, just like the Republican voters decided four years ago when faced with Jeb Bush’s super PAC resources.
Citizens United has changed the political landscape because it allows for more voices, not fewer, and that is something that should be celebrated and preserved. In these very partisan times, its heartwarming to finally see both political parties agreeing on something so important.
Paul Diego Craney is the spokesperson for and a board member of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a conservative advocacy group that was the focus of a recent op-ed in CommonWealth entitled “Shining a light on dark money.”