4:31 p.m., Oct. 21, 2010----Kenneth Vogel, a reporter for Politico.com, discussed campaign financing in a talk titled “Political Speech After Citizens United” on Wednesday night, Oct. 20, in Mitchell Hall as part of the University of Delaware's National Agenda 2010 speaker series.
Vogel said that although there is a lot going on in this election cycle, the most significant development could be the “demise of the modern campaign finance regulation regime.”
“We're seeing such a flood of money into politics, and it's really changed the way that campaigns, parties, outside groups, big corporations, labor unions, everyone approaches the political system,” he said.
According to Vogel, a lot of the spending, although not all of it, can be traced to a court decision concerning Citizens United, a nonprofit organization that wanted to air on television a negative film about Hillary Clinton, titled Hillary: The Movie. That raised the question of whether the group could use corporate funds to air advertisements that promoted the movie, in light of the McCain-Feingold Act concerning campaign finance reform.
The case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found that it is unconstitutional for governments to pass laws that prohibit corporations -- and by extension labor unions -- from airing these types of ads, Vogel said.
Vogel went on to clarify that the decision “did not, as has been kind of suggested in some media accounts, allow for corporations and labor unions to give directly to candidates. That's still forbidden.”
The flood of money that corporations and unions have poured into political advertising has “changed the whole landscape of politics,” Vogel said. “It used to be that the parties and the candidates were the ones who were really dictating the messages. They were the ones that big donors wanted to give to. Now, those contributions, the amount that those candidates can raise, while still important, are taking a back seat to some extent to some of the stuff that these outside groups can do under this new law. Now, these outside groups, these corporations, are able to air ads directly that really take on candidates in a very sharp and pointed way.”
Detractors of the decision are worried that this will shift political power away from the parties and the candidates and hand it over to corporations, which can buy their way into the political process. There are also fears that this will diminish individual participation, with corporate dollars drowning out individual voices.
While Vogel conceded that he could “see the rationale of that argument,” he finished his talk by saying that “individuals still have the power. Voters still have the power. It's a democracy; you can't buy a vote, no amount of money is going to offset the message from the candidate. The challenge for the candidates, no matter how much money is coming in, is still going to be to reach voters on a personal level.”
The next event will be an election eve UD Speaks presentation by Republican Karl Rove and Democrat Howard Dean on Monday, Oct. 25, at 8:30 p.m. in the Bob Carpenter Center.
Article by Adam Thomas
Photos by Duane Perry