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6 Pathetic Right-Wing Attempts to Defend the Indefensible Citizens United (Debunked)

The apologists are falling all over themselves to tell us not to worry.

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5. 'It’s always been done.'

Anybody who follows money in politics knows that every campaign surfaces new ways to get around the legal limits that are intended to keep elections free from corruption and encourage debate. However, as Democracy 21’s Wertheimer again notes, “The argument is wrong.”

This year is not like past elections. In 2004, millions were given to the Swift Boat PAC attacking John Kerry and financier George Soros also gave millions to two pro-Kerry PACs. However, both were illegal and Wertheimer said that all these “PACs paid substantial fines to the FEC [Federal Election Commission].”

“If these PACs had properly complied in 2004 with existing campaign finance laws, the contributions from individuals to the Swift Boat PAC and to the two pro-Democratic PACs would have been limited to $5,000 per donor per year,” he wrote. “The bottom line is this: the ability of corporations, labor unions and individuals to give unlimited contributions to super PACs making independent expenditures to influence federal elections flows directly from the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case.”

6. The absurd claim that it’s good for democracy.

Anyone who has read this commentary can draw his or her own conclusions.

What’s clear is that the Supreme Court has unleashed a new campaign finance regime, with Citizens United being its signature ruling. That the mainstream media or others do not cite the follow-up ruling, SpeechNow, does not change their fundamental critique or analysis.

There are as many serious constitutional reasons for imposing limits on what is spent in campaigns as there are for taking a less restrictive approach. However, whether 2012’s spending is by wealthy individuals in super PACs or wealthy corporations in non-profits is another distinction without much difference.

The point is the 2012 presidential campaign—and this will be true in races for Congress and other competitive contests, including electing judges—has been marked by enormous loopholes and ways for the wealthy to spend political money with impunity and in some cases anonymously.

The remedy is not necessarily censoring the wealthiest people and institutions, but balancing their participation with Americans of more modest means. Whether that comes from constitutional amendment campaigns, appointment of the next Supreme Court justice to rebalance the Court, or a revitalized Congress that is not afraid to legislate and challenge the Supreme Court remains to be seen.

In early 2012, super-donor and super-PAC spending is what our democracy looks like. But that is not what it is supposed to look like. 

Steven Rosenfeld covers democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).