Earlier today a headline caught my eye on Larry Hardy's Facebook page. The summary read: As a nation, we have officially ventured down the rabbit hole of big corporate spending in political campaigns, as a Texas company recently placed the first campaign ad paid for solely by corporate profits. I clicked the link and read the full article at The Wonk Room.
Because blogs often mix opinion with straight reporting, I did a Google search to find additional reporting from newspapers and news magazines. There wasn't any that I could find. The second page of results that included blogs large and small, The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, and Newser, among others, I found a link to a transcript from CNN dated April 26th; further investigation into the owner of the Texas company revealed a link to The Houston Chronicle.
Details from both cable network's transcripts and the Houston newspaper match what The Wonk Room blogger wrote about, which is that for the first time, a company's profits were used to pay for political ads - in this case, against incumbent Chuck Hopson, who holds the East Texas 11th seat in the State Legislature. The company, KDR, is a real estate business whose owner, Larry Durrett, also owns a franchise restaurant business. In 2006 Durrett ran, unsuccessfully, against Hopson.
Prior to the Supreme Court's January ruling in the Citizen's United v. Federal Election Commission case, which overthrew a 63-year-old precedent, this would not have been allowed under Texas law. After the Court's 5-4 ruling in favor of Citizen's United, the Texas Election Commission sanctioned unlimited political spending by corporations...and unions. A March 27th editorial in the Chronicle indicates that such spending can't be coordinated with candidate campaigns, although "joint efforts would be difficult to prove." Further, the editorial noted that "The content of Durrett's ads are notably similar to campaign pieces by Hopson's opponents."
Although in this instance Hopson defeated Durrett, many legal scholars and political scientists are convinced that corporate influence, most often felt these days through lobbyists (a substantial chunk of the $3.47 billion spent lobbying Congress last year was against health care), will grow even stronger. According to the editorial, "In the brave new world of post-Citizens United, multi-million-dollar corporate media blitzes directed against opponents for either personal or political reasons could become the norm." What the Court decided in January moves us one step closer to what I consider corporate fascism. Mussolini's definition of fascism, FWIW, is a merger of State and corporate power. What do you think?
In response to the January decision, Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen, joined by Republican Mike Castle, introduced a bill that would, among other things, require CEO's to appear in political ads, and to inform company shareholders about political spending. If I've read correctly, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce believes the Congressmen are over-reacting. What say you?