BCRA revisited

January 24, 2010

In my About page, I cited the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (aka McCain-Feingold) as an example of how the checks and balances in US government didn’t seem to be working.

But the Supreme Court revisited BCRA (and other laws) this week and it made a liar of me. John Stossel has a good column on the Court’s decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case.

A Victory for Free Speech

The First Amendment is a little stronger now. In a 5-4 decision announced today, the Supreme Court struck down another portion of McCain-Feingold, specifically the ban on corporate and union-funded issue ads in the closing days of an election. Even better, the Supremes also overruled a 20 year old ruling that banned corporate and labor money from funding any political campaign ads.

Finally, the Supreme Court displayed some sanity when interpreting the first Amendment. (Well, five justices, at least.)

I don’t think this means everything will be skittles and beer. I suspect the annoyance level of electioneering ads will go to 11. I’ll also guess that it will make the role of unions in politics more visible, which seems like a good thing to me.

What the decision has done is put some limits on the government’s power. If you haven’t worried about those limits, this clip from the Cato Institute does a good job exploring them. Bear in mind that what was banned was a cable television pay-per-view movie. It wasn’t something you could inadvertently pick up while channel surfing.

The point is not that groups will try to influence elections. We we can take that as a given, like death and taxes. Instead, the question is who decides how much influence is too much: the voters or some federal bureaucrats?

The dismaying reaction of the political left has been its dismay at the Court’s decision. President Obama himself addressed the issue in his weekly address.

President Blasts Supreme Court Over Citizens United Decision


WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Saturday sharply criticized a Supreme Court decision easing limits on campaign spending by corporations and labor unions, saying he couldn’t “think of anything more devastating to the public interest.” He also suggested the ruling could jeopardize his domestic agenda. […]

Portraying himself as aligned with the people and not special interests, Obama said the decision was unacceptable. […]

He said he has instructed his administration to work with Congress to “fight for the American people” and develop a “forceful bipartisan response” to the decision.

Let’s ignore the fact that the President is urging the Congress to override the Supreme Court on this. Considering the source, I’m not too surprised.

But the idea of the President as "aligned with the people and not special interests" is pretty funny, isn’t it? Here’s the guy who backed the GM bailout, the Chrysler bankruptcy deal, and who recently cut a deal with union leadership during health care reform negotiations — all of which favored union members over every one else.

News flash for you, President Obama: most of "the people" aren’t union members. That makes organized labor a "special interest" – just as any other minority group would be.

How about the President’s Some-Are-More-Equal-Than-Others policies? How are you liking those?

If there’s any group of people in Washington that appears to be in an interest group’s pocket, it’s the President and his advisers. In fact, Paul Howard wrote an article on that very topic for City Journal recently.

The Union Rules
What better to call the White House’s latest handout?
19 January 2010

At the rate that congressional Democrats and the White House are handing out special deals, exemptions, and payoffs in their health-care “reform” legislation, there’s a real danger that pundits will run out of snarky phrases to describe them. So as my own modest effort to help headline writers, I move that we call the $60 billion White House cave-in to the AFL-CIO “The Union Rules.” That phrase would henceforth describe the various union demands that President Obama has agreed to: exempting public and private unions for five years (from 2013 to 2018) from a 40 percent excise tax on high-cost health plans; deducting dental and vision benefits from the excise tax; and negotiating higher thresholds under the excise tax for plans that have a higher number of retirees or older workers, as unions do.

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