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Cash of the Titans: Life After Citizens United Ruling




Last week, the AFL-CIO released a statement – “Restoring Democracy” – on the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in the Citizens United case.

The federation eloquently and accurately inveighs against “excessive corporate influence” in the political process, calling for “greater balance . . . transparency and disclosure . . .  restoring Congress’ ability to regulate campaign spending,” and “abolishing corporate ‘personhood.’”  If necessary, the AFL states, we should pass a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.  To be sure, all of these things are true: Citizens United is bad for democracy in general, and especially bad for labor, as it makes the political playing field further unbalanced in favor of corporations and the wealthy.

In the spirit of full accounting, though, let’s acknowledge that the ruling does give labor something: For the first time in the modern history of a presidential race, labor can now communicate not just with its own members (as had been the law), but with every citizen.  Unions can now go door to door to mobilize voters.  And labor certainly intends to take advantage of this!

Two things to note.  First, even if labor has a super PAC, businesses and the wealthy are going to outspend labor by an order of magnitude.  (Hence the AFL call for reform.)

Second, and maybe I’m just being paranoid and/or hyper-defensive, but I can already hear the facile cries of “hypocrisy”—both from simple-minded right-wingers, and from the overly pure lefties who are most happy when losing.  No, it isn’t hypocritical to call for change while setting up a super PAC.  Why should labor (or anyone) voluntarily adhere to one set of rules when opponents adhere to a much looser set of rules?  Playing by the existing rules while calling for changes to them isn’t hypocrisy; it’s transparency, it’s engagement, it’s smart and it’s necessary.

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