Michigan: Axis of Evil or Just Ground Zero for Political Movements?
Teddy Roosevelt's New Nationalism Speech of 1910 Needs to Be Recalled Today
Michigan is ground zero for political earthquakes that shake the nation.
Latest tremors are from the 2010 Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court holding "corporations are people" with rights to spend unlimited funds secretly promoting candidates and issues.
The court overturned a Michigan case, a 1990 opinion, (Secretary of State Richard) Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which had upheld corporate spending limits, and parts of a 2003 opinion, McConnell v. FEC, extending Austin to unions and to a broader set of election-related television and radio broadcasts.
In recent days we have seen the effects dramatically of unlimited spending; about 90 percent of the advertising is comprised of negative attack ads that provide no useful element to the political discourse.
Another tremulous event, albeit a century ago, was the launching of the Republican Progressive movement. Concepts were first outlined on the stump in Kansas, but it was in Michigan (Bay City in fact) where Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose Progressive Republican Party got its start.
TR wasn't here then, but his followers fought like hell in combatting the conservatives of William Howard Taft at the National Guard Armory, scene of the 1912 Michigan Republican Convention.
The Roosevelt men went on to the National Republican Convention in Chicago and launched the Bull Moose campaign against the regular Taft Republicans. Of course that split the party and put Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic candidate, in the White House.
For several decades we had a Progressive Member of Congress, Roy O. Woodruff, a onetime mayor of Bay City, who carried on TR's principles.
Teddy Roosevelt did come to Bay City and make a speech; but that was in 1914, two years after he had lost the Presidency and four years after he first laid down his "progressivism" precepts in a timeless message in Ossawatomie, Kansas.
Part of the 1910 TR address offers advice for the conduct of political campaigns that is well recalled today. Because of their corrupting influences, he urged banning corporate contributions to candidates.
Roosevelt said: "It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public-service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs."
We are seeing the type of corruption that TR warned about in Michigan right now -- piles of secret corporation money and scads of funds from billionaires pouring into our elections which should be as sacred as we consider the constitution.
The Huffington Post points out that for more than a century, the Roosevelt position prevailed in our country. Corporate money was barred from being used in federal elections. Our national policy was based on a simple proposition: only individuals and groups of individuals were allowed to contribute or spend money to influence federal elections.
"Then on January 21, 2010, five Supreme Court Justices reached into the sky and pulled out something that had not existed for the past 219 years: a constitutional right for corporations to spend money to influence federal elections.
"These five Justices, whose decision will be harshly judged by history, threw out more than a century of national policy established by Congress, tossed out decades of Supreme Court precedents and eviscerated a bulwark of anti-corruption laws in the blink of an eye.
"The disastrous consequences of the Citizens United decision, a decision that will not stand the test of time, are now unfolding in our national elections. They include the ability of corporations to spend as much of their trillions of dollars in resources as they want to influence federal elections; a return of large amounts of secret money to federal elections for the first time since the Watergate era; and the creation of Super PACs and candidate-specific Super PACS that can raise unlimited amounts from influence-seeking corporations, wealthy individuals, labor unions and others, and spend them to influence federal elections."
Citizens United cited a Michigan case that went up to the high court. OLR Research summarizes: "In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions have the same political speech rights as individuals under the First Amendment.
In January 2008, Citizens United, a nonprofit corporation, released a 90 minute documentary entitled "Hillary: The Movie" (hereinafter Hillary). The movie expressed opinions about whether then-senator Hillary Clinton, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, was fit for the presidency. Citizens United distributed the movie in theaters and on DVD, but also wanted to make it available through video-on-demand. It produced advertisements promoting the film and wanted to show them on broadcast and cable television. To pay for the video-on-demand distribution and the advertisements, Citizens United planned to use its general treasury funds.
As amended by § 203 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), federal law prohibits corporations and unions from spending their general treasury funds on "electioneering communications" or for speech that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a candidate.
The high court "found no compelling government interest for prohibiting corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make election-related independent expenditures. Thus, it struck down a federal law banning this practice and also overruled two of its prior decisions. Additionally, in an 8-1 decision, the Court ruled that the disclaimer and disclosure requirements associated with electioneering communications are constitutional."
Fred Werthheimer of Huffington Post comments persuasively:
"The disastrous consequences of the Citizens United decision, a decision that will not stand the test of time, are now unfolding in our national elections. They include the ability of corporations to spend as much of their trillions of dollars in resources as they want to influence federal elections; a return of large amounts of secret money to federal elections for the first time since the Watergate era; and the creation of Super PACs and candidate-specific Super PACS that can raise unlimited amounts from influence-seeking corporations, wealthy individuals, labor unions and others, and spend them to influence federal elections.
"Unlimited money and secret money in our elections are a formula for corruption and scandal, which are coming our way.
"However, corruption and scandal also create opportunities for major reforms and those opportunities are also coming.
"We need to build a national movement in 2012 for reform of the current corrupt campaign finance system for electing the President and members of Congress.
"We need to end secret money in federal elections by passing new disclosure legislation.
"We need to give candidates an alternative way to finance their campaigns without having to depend on influence-seeking money, an alternative that is based on empowering citizens by matching small donations with multiple public matching funds.
"That means we need to fix the presidential public financing system that served the nation well for most of its existence and we need to create a similar public financing system for congressional races."
This columnist couldn't agree more.
Columns Article 6794
Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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