Double-Team On Wisconsin, Labor Unions & Citizens United
Part 1: The Wisconsin Money Excuse
When liberals lose, it can't be because their ideas were unpopular.
WSJ Editorial, June 10, 2012
When a professional athlete decides to leave a team and says, "it's not about the money," it's almost always about the money. In politics the opposite holds: When partisans blame defeat on the money, it's usually about something else.
Liberals are now blaming money for their rout in Wisconsin last week, especially the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. They say that ruling let Governor Scott Walker vastly outraise and outspend Democratic challenger Tom Barrett, which determined the result.
If only they had some evidence. As Michael McConnell points out nearby (below in this post), Citizens United eased the rules on political giving for both unions and corporations—which may have helped Mr. Barrett more than it did Mr. Walker. The Republican received most of his money from individuals, who have been allowed to donate as much as they want for nearly four decades. Mr. Barrett relied much more on unions, which thanks to Citizens United could and did help him as much as they were able.
Meanwhile, Mr. Walker could accept unlimited individual funds thanks to a Wisconsin law that lets incumbents facing recalls avoid the typical $10,000 limit. Democrats understood this advantage for Mr. Walker when they signed onto the recall. That, too, had nothing to do with Citizens United.
According to CNN's exit poll, no fewer than 86% of voters said they had made their decision before May, or weeks before ads began saturating the airwaves. This isn't surprising because Wisconsinites had been taking sides since the collective-bargaining reform brawl began in February 2011. Mr. Walker had the support of 50% or more in most polls for weeks ahead of the election, and most voters said they supported the reforms.
Money does matter in politics, but not as much in high-profile races when the public is paying attention. In this year's Presidential election, both sides will have more than enough money to compete in the dozen or so swing states. If Democrats want to get a head start on losing in November, they'll keep griping about the money instead of changing their message.
Part 2: Citizens United and the Wisconsin Vote
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett got millions in support from unions, whose contributions were legitimized by the Supreme Court.
WSJ Opinion, June 10, 2012
In the wake of Wisconsin's recall election, the Washington Post's Greg Sargent, MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell and other commentators disappointed with the result are not blaming the electorate or the apparent success and popularity of Gov. Scott Walker's reforms. Instead, they are singling out the Supreme Court's 2010 campaign-finance decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, as the reason for Mr. Walker's 7-1 spending advantage.
Citizens United held that associations of Americans, including corporations and labor unions, have a First Amendment right to make independent expenditures in support or opposition to candidates for public office.
In a sense, Citizens United did have an important effect on the Wisconsin election. But the effect was almost exactly the opposite of what many pundits imply.
By contrast, the large spenders on behalf of Mr. Walker were mostly individuals. According to the Center for Public Integrity, these included Diane Hendricks, Wisconsin's wealthiest businesswoman, who spent over half a million dollars on his behalf; Bob J. Perry, a Texas home builder, who spent almost half a million; and well-known political contributors such as casino operator Sheldon Adelson and former Amway CEO Dick DeVos, who kicked in a quarter-million dollars each. Businessman David Koch gave $1 million to the Republic Governors Association, which spent $4 million on the Wisconsin race.
These donations have nothing to do withCitizens United. Individuals have been free to make unlimited independent expenditures in support of candidates since the Supreme Court case of Buckley v. Valeo (1976).
I have seen no published reports of any corporate expenditures on behalf of Mr. Walker, though presumably the $500,000 Chamber of Commerce contribution to the Republican Governors Association fund came largely from corporate sources. Several groups also ran issue ads that presumably benefited Mr. Walker; these groups are not required to disclose their donors and may have received corporate contributions. Corporations and unions could run issue ads before Citizens United, as long as they did not clearly refer to a candidate.
For the most part, though, Mr. Walker's direct, big-ticket support came from sources that have been lawful for decades.
His opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, got his support primarily from labor unions, whose participation was legitimized by Citizens United. Without that decision so demonized by the political left, Mr. Barrett would have been at even more of a financial disadvantage.
Speaking generally, Citizens United is likely to benefit Democrats more than Republicans. Corporations rarely make independent expenditures during candidate elections in their own name, because the ads offend customers, workers and shareholders. And direct corporate contributions to candidates tend to be split more or less evenly between the two parties, largely neutralizing their effect.
But unions have no compunctions against running campaign ads, and almost all of their money goes to Democrats. The Republicans' advantage, when they have one, comes from rich individual donors—and the right of individuals to make expenditures in support of candidates long predates Citizens United.
This is not to say that our complex and counterproductive campaign-finance laws do not need reform. It is just to point out that the Supreme Court's much-maligned and misunderstood decision in Citizens United was not the cause of Scott Walker's financial advantage. It helped his Democratic opponent.
Mr. McConnell, a former federal judge, is professor of law at Stanford Law School and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.