One of the strangest and weakest defenses of the IRS’s campaign targeting conservative and pro-Israel nonprofit applicants was that the blatant violation of the constitutional rights of Americans who disagreed with President Obama was the natural reaction of the poor, overworked bureaucrat. We were told that conservatives “swamped” the IRS with nonprofit applications after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision struck down some restrictions on political speech.
This excuse never made much sense, and it certainly didn’t justify what happened: President Obama publicly slammed conservative nonprofits as shady and possibly foreign-funded and complained they had patriotic-sounding names to hide their nefarious purposes; he encouraged extra scrutiny of these groups; Democrats in the Senate then pushed the IRS to target the kinds of groups the president warned about; the IRS did so. Blaming conservatives for applying to participate in the nonprofit sector and thus forcing the IRS to harass and silence them is just as nonsensical as it sounds. But what about the underlying point: were those poor IRS officials flooded with conservative applicants? No, as the Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta points out:
For all the howling from the left about how the Citizens United ruling would allow corporations to “buy” the election, the Washington Post reports that outside spending groups actually had little impact:
In the Senate, Republicans lost ground, pouring well over $100 million in outside money into a half-dozen seats that went to Democrats. In the presidential race, GOP nominee Mitt Romney and his allies spent more than twice as much as John McCain in 2008, but only took back red-leaning Indiana and North Carolina for their trouble.
Even in the House, where last-minute surges of cash would seem to stand a good chance of swinging races, GOP money groups struck out repeatedly, according to the Post analysis. In 26 of the most competitive House races, Democratic candidates and their allies were outspent in the final months of the race but pulled out a victory anyway. That compares to 11 competitive races where Republicans were outspent and won.
Outside money was the dog that barked but did not bite. Obama and other Democrats had long made dire predictions about the potential impact of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds on elections and created an entirely new class of wealthy political groups.
A first-term president running for re-election always has a certain time-deficit challenge to overcome–the president, unlike his opponent, has a job to do. Electioneering takes a backseat to being leader of the free world. The president’s opponent, if not currently in office himself, could theoretically spend all day, every day at rallies in swing states while the President remains in the Oval Office, making decisions that set the trajectory for the country. The president, at the very least, has the advantage of already appearing presidential.
At least, that’s how it used to be. Mother Jones reported yesterday that President Obama has attended more than 200 fundraisers since officially relaunching his reelection campaign in April of last year. “Put another way, that’s an average of one fundraiser roughly every 60 hours for Obama.”
The biggest news out of the Supreme Court today is its decision on the Arizona immigration law, but it also handed a victory to supporters of Citizens United by knocking down a Montana law banning in-state corporate political spending. WSJ reports:
The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a summary reversal of the Montana Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a state law that prohibited corporate spending in state elections. The U.S. Court said the question in this case was whether the Citizens United decision, which established that corporate spending in elections is permitted as a matter of free speech, applied to the Montana state law. “There can be no serious doubt that it does,” the Court wrote.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled that Republicans will fight attacks on Citizens United and other assaults on political expression during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute earlier today.
“Campaign contributions are speech,” said McConnell. “If we lose the right to speak, we’ve lost the battle before it starts.”
The left has decried the Citizens United decision since the beginning, but the recent Wisconsin recall election reenergized efforts to fight it. Despite the fact that Citizens United had little impact on the election spending in Wisconsin, progressives blamed it for their loss and seem determined to make it a top issue in the presidential election.
The left’s response to the Wisconsin rout is that their ideas weren’t rejected, but they were simply outspent by a flood of corporate, special interest cash. And it’s true the anti-Walker forces were outspent — by roughly the same ratio as Barack Obama outspent John McCain in 2008 — but obviously if Gov. Scott Walker’s policies were as draconian and abhorrent as Democrats claim then no amount of money could win him the election.
Still, Democrats are bringing back all the old conservative boogeymen — the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, corporate spending, Citizens United — in an attempt to turn the Wisconsin loss into an Obama campaign fundraising ploy. The Hill reports:
In an email to supporters, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina called Tuesday’s outcome — and, more specifically, the super-PAC money spent on Walker — a “terrifying experiment.” …
Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, agreed with that sentiment, saying Democrats learned a similar lesson in 2010, when they lost a slew of seats to Republicans.
“In 2010, we did not lose the House to House Republicans,” Israel told The Hill. “We lost it to Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. In 2012, we did not lose the Wisconsin recall to Gov. Walker, we lost it to an 8-to-1 spending differential, most from out of the state.”