Here’s what President Obama wants you to believe about his relationship to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and the toxic torrent of corporate cash polluting our politics: “it’s complicated.”
In their ruling, the justices determined that corporations had a free speech right to anonymously contribute as much as they wanted to third-party political action groups that worked in support of candidates, as long as those PACs had no formal connection to the candidate.
On the one hand, the president blasted the court’s ruling less than a week after it was issued, with the justices seated right in front of him, in his January 2010 State of the Union speech, for opening “the floodgates for special interests – including foreign companies – to spend without limit in our elections.”
On the other hand, his campaign decided two years later to “level the playing field” with Republicans and encourage Super PAC support for the president, by allowing cabinet members and senior White House officials to cooperate with a Super PAC that supports their boss.
On yet another hand, the president insisted he would support a constitutional amendment to undo Citizens United.
And on yet still another hand, when the president had the opportunity to actually do something to shed some sunlight on the secretive stash of corporate donations unleashed by Citizens United, by issuing an executive order requiring government contractors to reveal all their political spending, he balked.
When you follow the president’s actions, rather than listen to his words, it’s not complicated at all.
The president and his Democratic Party colleagues are determined to “take the money and run.”
For nearly a year, President Obama had floated the idea of issuing an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose all their political contributions – including contributions to PACs and organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce – when they submit a bid.
The biggest contractors, for the most part, are defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, which smother the politicians in contributions to keep the weapons contracts flowing. In the 2012 cycle, Lockheed’s PAC has spent more than $2 million in contributions that we know of, 59 percent to Republicans and 41 percent to Democrats.
Its contributions go beyond an attempt to win a single weapons contract. What they and the other contractors have been able to do is to purchase the country’s entire debate over defense spending, so that few of our representatives ever raise a peep about whether the expensive defense systems are necessary.
Republicans howled at the President Obama’s proposal, accusing him of attempting to politicize the bidding process. President Obama wanted to know who had made the contributions, the Republicans charged, so he could award bids to the highest-contributing bidders.
While President Obama stewed, the Republicans passed measures in May 2011 to block[m1] an executive order if it was issued.
The venerable Public Citizen organization made a suggestion that would sidestep the Republicans’ stated objection.
Why not, Public Citizen said, limit the disclosure requirement to the winning bidder?
But the president backed off – either because he didn’t want a fight with Republicans or because his fundraisers reminded him he had a tough campaign ahead and the little people they dote on with their solicitation emails weren’t going to be able to foot the bill.
On the most critical issue facing our political system, the president of the United States is incapable of leveling with the American people.
President Obama may want to do the right thing, but he is trapped in a system controlled by big money that is bigger than he is.
The first step to fight back against that system won’t come from Washington. It will come from building a grassroots movement to undo Citizens United. Read more about it, and our proposed constitutional amendment, which is easy to understand and will withstand any legal challenge, here.