Two years ago, Justice Scalia cast one of the five votes necessary to unleash unlimited corporate money on American democracy in the Supreme Court’s egregious Citizens United decision. Yet, at a panel in South Carolina this weekend, Scalia tried to lay the blame for the absurd campaign finance system he created at everyone’s feet but his own:
Super PACs have raised more than $30 million just three races into the 2012 presidential race, according to the website opensecrets.org, run by The Center for Responsive Politics. TV advertising alone in South Carolina, which is voting Saturday, is estimated at $12 million, or nearly $27 per voter when calculated using the 2008 Republican primary turnout numbers. […]
Scalia said the blame for this type of system shouldn’t fall on the Supreme Court, which he said decides merely whether the system is legal under the U.S. Constitution. Instead, he said the ones who have to change things are the politicians who created the system and the voters who often reward the candidates who spend the most money.
“If the system seems crazy to you, don’t blame it on the court,” Scalia said, during a discussion in front of South Carolina lawyers that lasted for more than an hour.
Scalia’s attempt to shift blame is, frankly, ridiculous. While America’s pre-Citizens United campaign finance laws were far from perfect, they were at least adequate to prevent a handful of corporations from buying and selling elections. Congress passed a ban on corporate money in politics 65 years ago. The Supreme Court, with Scalia casting the deciding vote, killed that ban. If it wasn’t for the Supreme Court, the ban would still be in place.
Moreover, while Citizens United is best remembered for opening the floodgates to corporate money in politics, it also led to the creation of “Super PACs” which allow wealthy individuals and corporations to spend unlimited sums of money on shadow campaigns intended to elect particular candidates. Shortly after Citizens United was handed down, a key lower court decision used it to declare so-called “independent expenditures” a free for all for the very wealthy. Billionaires are still forbidden from giving unlimited money to a campaign, but donations to “independent” groups such as Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney’s Super PAC are entirely unbound.
To the extent that Citizens United still allows some leeway to regulate campaign finance, the fact that Congress has not done anything to enact new regulation after the Supreme Court blew our existing system up can be explained with just one chart:
That’s the top 20 spenders on the 2012 election — 17 of whom are conservatives or Republicans. In other words, Scalia’s action in Citizens United doesn’t just mean a flood of corporate and other money, it means that this money overwhelmingly favors one political party. Republican lawmakers are more than smart enough to figure this out, and that gives them all the incentive they need to block any attempt to fix the mess Citizens United created.