Latest Citizens United Fallout: Chemical Lobby Buys Pro-GOP TV Ads In Wisconsin
When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its controversial Citizens United decision in 2010 expanding corporate political speech rights, an odd thing happened: the biggest abusers of campaign finance loopholes were not corporations but instead wealthy individuals writing big checks and new political groups masquerading as non-profits. But now that is changing.
According to a detailed report by Brendan Fischer in PR Watch, corporate cash is beginning to pay for big media buys in the U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin, where the beneficiary is former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. The American Chemistry Council has bought almost $650,000 in television ads supporting Thompson, now a Senate candidate, saying he will "expand domestic energy production, support small business, and cut spending and red tape." Fischer writes:
The ads appear to be the first reported expenditures from the chemical trade association in 2012, spending made possible by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC. That decision opened the door to corporations -- including nonprofit 501(c)(6) corporations like ACC -- to use funds from their general treasury to pay for political ads. Some of ACC's spending since 2010 has gone to benefit politicians who have proven their pro-corporate credentials through membership in ALEC.
The report describes how the chemical industry trade association, like other members of the pro-corporate, anti-regulatory American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), have been fighting federal regulators for years. They also have supported Democrats who share their agenda.
As Lee Fang reports in The Nation, the trade group's first ads in 2010 supported Democrat Joe Manchin's successful bid for West Virginia's U.S. Senate seat. Manchin was one of ALEC's few Democratic members when he was a state legislator, and held leadership positions in the organization -- he was ALEC State Chair for Virginia in 1991 and later became ALEC's national treasurer. After being elected to the U.S. Senate with ACC support, Manchin went on to be a key ally of the chemical industry trade group. His support was conspicuously absent from a 2011 bill proposed by fellow Democrat Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) to strengthen the Toxic Substances Control Act -- the same law that ACC confronted with its 2011 ALEC resolution -- and which stalled due to opposition from the chemical industry.
ACC, whose long list of members include ALEC corporations like Dow Corning, Honeywell, and Bayer, alsoactively opposes regulation of greenhouse gas (a position shared and promoted by ALEC). As Fang notes: "In one of his first acts as senator, Manchin was the lone Democrat to co-sponsor Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s amendment to bar the EPA permanently from using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases—a position being pushed at the time by the ACC’s top lobbyist, Cal Dooley."
Curiously, the American Chemistry Council also appears to be running ads in Utah for another conservative Democrat, Fisher reports.
Though ACC has only reported expenditures on the Wisconsin race, news outlets in Utah are reporting on similar ads in support of incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT). Last year, Matheson co-introduced the TRAIN Act with John Sullivan (R-OK), an ALEC alumnus, which would make it more difficult for the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The effort resembled several pieces of ALEC-inspired legislation. After the bill passed the house, ALEC issued a press release applauding Matheson and Sullivan.
But beyond the conservative candidates and causes helped by the chemical industry trade group is the legal reality that Citizens United indeed has made it possible for specific corporate players to make outsized expenditures to benefit specific candidates. If elected to the U.S. Senate, you can be sure that Tommy Thompson will be returning the Council's phone calls.