An informative discussion with Yale Law School professor Heather Gerken, regarding the corroding effects of unregulated political campaign financing, and how an increasingly wooden adherence to one fundamental American value, “freedom,” is undermining another of the major tenets upon which American society was originally founded: equality.
Of particular note is the insightful acknowledgement contained within her argument that it is not so much the presence of money in politics that is the problem; you’re always going to have money as a necessary fuel for helping to enable the processes involved in social and political action. The real issue needing to be addressed is one of transparency. Gerken is implicitly touching upon a primordially important point here in regards to communication rights (and their accompanying brethren, the right to information). It is once again demonstrative of why communication rights can be defined as “the hole in the death star,” in that if we change the parameters of what information can and should be accessible, and provide the communicative systems in which it can be made effectively available, then many of the other problematic symptoms of our troubled society will be much easier to deal with.
“We are today in an environment in which any lie or falsehood can be peddled by major power factions, and where no traceable accountability can be assigned for those doing the speaking, or who is enabling the speech.”
BILL MOYERS: Everyday people, the polls show they realize, 70, 75 percent realize that there’s too much money in politics. And they just say, they throw up their hands and turn away. Is that your experience?
HEATHER GERKEN: I think the better way to think about it is there’s always going to be money in politics. But it matters where the money goes and how it gets there. So just to give you an example, even with independent spending which has been really terrible in the last few years, if we could trace where the money came from, that would make a big difference. If when you see one of these ads run by Americans for America and it seems really wonderful and it tells you how great coal is, I think if people — and people hear Americans for America and they think it’s just an ad. I think if people heard at the end of that ad, this was paid for by the coal industry, they’d think differently about the ad. When we, you were talking about, you know, this all goes back to voters. If we just give voters the tools they need to see what’s actually happening to realize where money is in the system, it might give them the weapon they need to fight back.
BILL MOYERS: Well, in his majority opinion written for the court at the time for Citizens United, Justice Kennedy said disclosure is perfectly acceptable here, if we’re going to make the system work. But when the disclosure provision was put before the Senate, Mitch McConnell and Republicans filibustered it in effect, they throttled it, they did not let the Senate vote on disclosure.
HEATHER GERKEN: Well, this is another example of what you would call chutzpah. Because when McCain-Feingold was being passed, what Republicans like Mitch McConnell would say over and over again is, we don’t need to cap anything. We don’t need to shut down the money, we can just have disclosure and transparency, and that’s all we need. Now, a few years later, it’s not just that they’re refusing to pass basic disclosure and disclaimer rules, but it even gets worse than that. The lawyers are now arguing that corporations are intimidated if their money was disclosed. So you see lawyers in court and outside in the public arguing that giant companies like Walmart or Target or Exxon are scared to give money into politics because they’re feeling so intimidated by threats. Now and this is just where it goes beyond the level of absurd. They invoke precedent from the Supreme Court from the battle days in the, when the NAACP membership was being threatened with lynching. So it’s one thing to say that, you know, in the 1940s and 1950s people might get lynched for expressing their political viewpoints on race in the south and that there’s reasons to protect that. But it’s quite another thing to say that we should worry about Walmart and Exxon when they’re giving money in politics. That is not a first amendment concern.
BILL MOYERS: If in fact the Supreme Court says disclosure is fine as the court said in the Citizens United decision, yes, we should know and it’s okay to know and it’s legal to know, why are Senator Mitch McConnell and others in Congress preventing disclosure from happening, from passing it, from approving it, from saying, yes, let’s disclose the source of this money?
HEATHER GERKEN: Because the people who support Senator McConnell and the Republican party would prefer to give this money anonymously, secretly through shell corporations. An example, the insurance companies put a lot of money into the Chamber of Commerce. And it was the Chamber of Commerce that was saying things about the Obamacare, not the insurance industry. It looked clean, right? It looked like it was just the business interests being expressed by the chamber of commerce. But it was really insurance money funding that. That’s a problem. That’s a problem because you can’t evaluate the message if you don’t know who the messenger is.