You’ve got to feel bad for the rich and powerful in America. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a variety of big business groups say if Congress goes back to letting the American people know who is behind campaign attack ads, businesses will face the “palpable” threat of “retaliation” and “reprisals.” Former Federal Election Commission Chairman Bradley Smith warns in The Wall Street Journal that boycotts based on political beliefs — made possible by the public disclosure of campaign finance data — “endanger the very commerce that enriches us all.” Even the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, apparently is being “intimidated” (Kathleen Parker), “pressured” (George Will) and “threatened” (Rick Garnett) by that most powerful force in America (law professor and New Republic legal editor) Jeffrey Rosen. On the right these days, the rhetoric is all about a liberal siege. Despite Republicans’ majority in the House, its filibuster power in the Senate, a sympathetic Supreme Court and the great power of business groups — the language of threats is pervasive. But look beyond the rhetoric and you can see what’s really going on: Those with power want to wield it without being accountable for their actions.
Let’s start with Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court case that freed up groups like the U.S. Chamber to unleash considerable resources to influence the outcome of elections. The ruling itself allowed corporations to spend freely on elections. But few corporations wanted to spend directly. Instead, the money started to flow from corporations and wealthy individuals once it became easy to obscure or completely hide the source. The Los Angeles Times just reported that during the 2010 midterm elections, one shadowy group, consisting of nothing more than a PO Box, “sent more than $55 million to 26 GOP-allied groups, tax filings show, funding opaque outfits such as American Future Fund, 60 Plus Association and Americans for Job Security that were behind a coordinated campaign against Democratic congressional candidates.”
Why are corporations reluctant to put their names on these campaign ads? They don’t want to lose customers. Target experienced a boycott a few years ago when the company gave money to a group supporting a candidate who opposed gay rights. But this is hardly a problem just for the right. The New York Times recently profiled a North Carolina company, Replacements Ltd., which is losing business because of its opposition to the state’s recent ballot measure banning same-sex marriage.