Tuesday, September 21, 2010

American conservatives and the use of interest groups in campaigning

The Washington Post has the full story here. An excerpt:

"[. . .] Conservative groups have taken a decisive lead in spending on independent advertising ahead of the November elections, according to disclosure reports compiled in the Washington Post's campaign spending chart. Interest groups and political parties reported $13.9 million in expenditures to the Federal Election Commission last week. Of that amount, 85 percent was spent on behalf of Republicans and 15 percent on behalf of Democrats. Seven conservative groups have each reported spending more than $1 million in the last three weeks. They include: Americans for Job Security, a Virginia-based business association; the 60 Plus Association, which supports privatizing Social Security and ending the estate tax; the American Future Fund, run by an Iowa farmer and former state representative; and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest business lobby. Two anti-tax groups, the Club for Growth and Americans for Tax Reform, reported $1 million each in spending last week.

No liberal group has spent more than $1 million in the last three weeks. The Service Employees International Union came the closest with $930,000."

What makes this story all the more interesting is the fact that spending on this scale by interest groups "would not have been legal before the Supreme Court's January decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the landmark decision which freed corporate spending on election ads."

They say politics is about many things. Some say we should aim to satisfy the demands of a "general will" common to all rather than a statistical majority. I won't weigh in on this here. Nevertheless, and without commenting on the particular merits or demerits of the campaigns noted above in the WP's article, I believe there be real concerns we should have about any growth in interest groups in our electoral politics.

People say that they don't trust politicians, yet they never vote to end a system whereby politicians are elected. (Yes, you can quote me.) If true, then perhaps many of us may trust interest groups less. After all, they have a particular interest in mind and its pursuit may conflict with other interests that we as citizens have that they as an interest group lack.

Citizens United may be one of the most damaging judgements the US Supreme Court has rendered in recent decades. Let us hope it is shortlived before American democracy is damaged.

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