Friday, September 28, 2012

Unions and Citizens United: What Romney Doesn't Want You to Know

by Nomad


n a desperate attempt to find some issue that he can talk about- apart from foreign policy, Medicare,  gay marriage, social security, health care, tax reform or any of the other subjects he considers "political landmines"-  candidate Mitt Romney has selected an easy punching bag- teacher unions. 

Last week, Romney recently made clear his contempt for both teachers and for free speech at a roundtable discussion. He began to lecture the attendees with his opinions on teachers unions and the voucher system. When one member of the group offered her opinions on the subject, he silenced her with the imperious statement “‘I didn’t ask you a question." 
This was a monologue, not a dialogue. This conversation went one way only.

Yesterday while attempting to take another shot at teachers unions he, sadly, revealed his complete ignorance (or his hypocrisy) on one of the most important and damaging court decisions of our times.
(CBS News) Republican nominee Mitt Romney said Tuesday that Democratic politicians have a conflict of interest in dealing with teacher unions because the unions contribute so heavily to their campaigns. He suggested that money should somehow be diverted or cut off, although he did not offer details.

The bigger problem, Romney said, is that "the person sitting across the table from them should not have received the largest campaign contribution from the teachers union themselves ... [It's] an extraordinary conflict of interest and something that should be addressed."

He later added that "we simply can't have" elected officials who have received large contributions from teachers sitting across from them at the bargaining table "supposedly" to represent the interests of children. "I think it's a mistake," Romney said. "I think we have to get the money out of the teachers unions going into campaigns. It's the wrong way for us to go. We've got to separate that."
There’s a very good reason why Romney should feel embarrassed to have such a remark. He appears uneducated to the full scope of the 2010 Citizens United decision. 

As you probably know, according the Citizen United decision of the Supreme Court, corporations- which, they declared, had the same protected rights as any citizen- were allowed to contribute without restriction to campaigns. The reasoning behind this decision was that campaign contributions were a form of speech and could not be limited under the constitution. Most citizens were united in thinking it was one of the most foolhardy and dangerous decisions the US Supreme Court has ever made. The justices however have stood by it and we have seen the flood of mystery money flooding in.

Yet, there is one point that Romney seems embarrassingly ignorant of. The Citizen United decision did not apply only to corporations. 
As Charlotte Garden, writing for the William and Mary Law Review, points out
Citizens United also applies to labor unions, freeing them to spend general treasury funds on electioneering ...
In other words, according to the very same Citizens United decision, if corporations are people, then, unions are people as well.  The fact that Romney is unaware of this, at the very least, serves as a warning to voters that the candidate is grossly uninformed.

But perhaps it goes beyond simple ignorance.
After all, the Supreme Court itself didn’t seem eager to discuss this application in detail.

Curiously, Citizens United hardly referred to unions at all, even though the decision applies to unions, and even though the majority opinion talked extensively about other types of associations—such as news organizations and nonprofits, like the Sierra Club—and the importance of their political speech to American democracy. Against the backdrop of this wide-ranging opinion, the Court’s failure to discuss labor unions was particularly unusual.
Not so unusual. It is, some would say, the clear conservative bias of the courts. And, as proof, look how Romney is attempting to mislead the public. As far as Romney and the conservative Republicans are concerned, the Supreme Court's decision applied only to corporate donations. 

Although the inclusion of labor unions into the equation doesn’t address the main problem with unlimited campaign contributions (namely, the ensuing corruption) it is, perhaps, the only silver lining in this  catastrophic court decision.
Citizens United’s broad articulation of First Amendment principles also has the potential to expand unions’ First Amendment rights outside of the election context. ...Thus, Citizens United has the potential to expand what unions can say, how they can say it, and how they can pay for that speech.
Richard Trumka, head of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL–CIO) sees this an opportunity. He told a reporter for Las Vegas Sun:
“The (corporations) outspend us 25 to 1, or somewhere in that area,. They grossly outperform us. But we turn people out on the ground. We do a grassroots program and this time our program will be better, more effective. This time we get to talk to non-union workers instead of just union workers.”
In other words, unions will be developing its "ground game." And that's something unions, from their inception, have always done better than corporations. Come to think of it, why shouldn't nation-wide strikes be considered a form of protected free speech?

There is more good news to report. Only when corporations realize that the Citizens United decision works in both directions, that there is a downside, only then will there be any motivation to draft a amendment against the effects of this decision. (Perhaps I am being a bit too optimistic but then the alternative vision is the wholesale corruption of the Republic.) 

In any event, for a man who became infamous for pleading with Iowa voters during last year’s primary that “corporations are people too,” Romney’s objection to unregulated campaign spending by unions seems mighty hypocritical at this point. 

He seems to have had no qualms about “extraordinary” conflicts of interest when it came to accepting contributions from the super wealthy despite the fact that his tax plan would benefit that minority at the cost to the middle class and the poor. As one source tells us:

While Romney would bring taxes for top incomes down to 28 percent, Ryan has proposed bringing the top rate down even lower, to 25 percent. Meanwhile, Ryan’s plan would actually increase the effective tax rate on the very poorest Americans by getting rid of tax breaks that benefit low earners.
We heard no mention of conflicts of interest when Romney was discussing the 47% at Marc Leder's mansion in Boca Raton. We heard nothing about conflicts of interest when Romney was in Israel soliciting contributions. In both of these cases, the negative effects to both domestic and foreign policy would be far more serious than conflicts of interest from teachers unions. 
Furthermore, Romney once understood the dangers and the conflicts of interest that could arise from unlimited campaign contributions. As reported in another post, back in 1994, Romney told a roundtable discussion in Burlington, Massachusetts:
I don’t like the influence of money – whether it’s business, labor or any other group. I do not like that kind of influence...I think we have to really become much more vigilant in seeing the impact on money – and I don’t care how it’s organized – on politics.”
Only now is the problem only teachers union contributions? 
Citizens United has changed the political landscape in America and, whether we like it or not, both Romney and Obama have made good use of this supreme error of judgement by the courts. The long term effect is probably going to be disastrous for the nation. 

What seems to annoy Romney- and his imagined audience- is not that campaign contributions from unions might warp politics and certainly not on conflicts of interest. He seems to have no similar objections to donations by corporations to his own campaign. 

What seems to bother Romney is that unions are applying the same rights as corporations. 
In short, the teachers unions, after having been repeatedly attacked by conservatives groups, after  being branded as the enemy, are giving them a taste of their own medicine. They are speaking out and fighting back. 

This, according to Romney, is not acceptable.

I always welcome your comments so feel free to add your voice to the discussion.

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