In which Rep. Adam Schiff makes me very, very angry
3 min read

In which Rep. Adam Schiff makes me very, very angry

His proposal on campaign finance and Citizens United is so misguided it can only be political -- because it's certainly not sound policy.
Cathedral interior, St. Petersburg, 2009.

Does anyone else remember the scene in Billy Jack where he's in the ice cream parlor, talking to some guys he's about to turn into butterscotch pudding, about how he tries to control his temper, tries to be reasonable but sometimes just goes... (ass kicking commences)... berserk?

Well, this post is like that. Buckle up, because I'm ticked about this nonsense from Rep. Adam Schiff.

Schiff introduces constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) on Wednesday introduced a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, which eliminated restrictions on corporate campaign spending.

I try these days to stay away from a lot of the day-to-day ratfucking of national politics -- the tit-for-tat, the showboating, the stuff that is designed (by guys like me) as pre-packaged bubblegum for cable news. And that's what this proposal from Schiff is.

But it's also so full of willful lies and misunderstanding that it deserves pushback. In a better world, it deserves censure for attacking the First Amendment, but let's start with pushback.

No matter what you feel about Citizen's United, it is not some fundamental change in how the Supreme Court (and thus, the Constitution) views the subject of money in politics. Buckley v. Valeo established the legal framework for private money in elections more than 40 years ago. In 1978's First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, the Supreme Court recognized a corporate right to free speech, concluding that the value of speech in the course of political debate does not depend on the identity of the speaker.

Citizens United did not establish that corporations are persons or any other such nonsense. Bellotti established that corporations do not need to be persons to receive First Amendment protections and they can speak under the rules provided by Buckley.

Given the two points above (and again, whether you think money in politics is a problem or not), the proper way to view Citizens United is for what it was: A technical decision that was demanded by two major SCOTUS precedents and only clarified that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law needed more time in the oven.

So what would Schiff's amendment actually do? Well, according to the language it would:

  • Change the standard for protecting political speech from strict scrutiny (the highest standard) to "reasonable," and delegate that authority to Congress and the states. Do you trust Congress or Joe from the 14th Statehouse District down in Hilo to determine which of U.S. Steel's beliefs are reasonable? And while we're at it: Which of yours, since the language of the amendment would impact them?
  • Effectively overturn Bellotti, allowing Congress and the states to determine corporate spending limits on elections. What happens when Congress considers Amazon unable to donate to campaigns but Washington State says they're just fine and officials in all the states where they have operations are somewhere in between? Welcome to Schiff's world of unending corporate demonization and litigation.
  • Also effectively overturn previous SCOTUS limitations on bad public-financing schemes for elections. There's nothing stopping states from pursuing public-financing schemes now -- and many have. What this language *would* do is bring back the ability of publicly-financed election regimes to severely disadvantage candidates who chose to pursue private funding.

Schiff is not stupid -- he knows all of this or, certainly, his advisors do. But Citizens United remains one of the great, unifying dog whistles on the left that can unite traditional progressives, the far left and core Democratic constituencies -- even if it unites them under nothing but soundbite lies.

No chance it would pass in the states? Doesn't matter. Won't get the votes it needs in Congress? Who cares. The final calculus is the most cynical of all: Schiff's going to use that whistle and those lies to do one thing -- rake in donor dollars in the months between now and November 2020.