One news item making the rounds today comes from a polling question. The ABC News/Washington Post poll asked Americans about a number of subjects, but the headline comes from a statement that 80% of Americans disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case.
Perhaps they do, but I think some of the disagreement comes in the way the question was asked. Here’s how the poll asked the respondents on the 35th of a grueling 40-question list:
Changing topics, do you support or oppose the recent ruling by the Supreme Court that says corporations and unions can spend as much money as they want to help political candidates win elections? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?
Well, shoot, when you ask it that way, I might even be inclined to oppose the decision. I wonder if the responses would’ve been different had the question been asked:
Do you support or oppose the Supreme Court decision which held that corporations have the same free speech rights as individuals when it comes to political contributions?
But by couching in both political and monetary terms, the pollsters led people to what they considered the “proper” answer. It also shows that Americans are woefully deficient at understanding the Constitution because they agreed with the next question:
Would you support or oppose an effort by Congress to reinstate limits on corporate and union spending on election campaigns? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?
Obviously they don’t recall the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” The Supreme Court held money equalled speech in Buckley v. Valeo:
The Court concurred in part with the appellants’ claim, finding that the restrictions on political contributions and expenditures “necessarily reduce[d] the quantity of expression by restricting the number of issues discussed, the depth of the exploration, and the size of the audience reached. This is because virtually every means of communicating ideas in today’s mass society requires the expenditure of money.”
Understanding that is the key to supporting the Citizens United decision. There are still laws on the books regarding disclosure of who contributes, and those are advisable.
What Democrats in Congress would like to do is put the genie back in the bottle for corporations, yet leave unions free to do whatever they wish. Obviously they’re a little angry that their key special interest now has to play on a more level field than they did before the Citizens United decision.
Every time someone tries to take the money out of politics, smart people figure out ways around it. When McCain-Feingold passed, millions of dollars just shifted to 527 groups who did the dirty work for politicans. At least with the Citizens United case we’ll have more accountability to just who gave money to whom, then try to figure out the quid quo pro.
If the press wasn’t worried about losing influence, perhaps they wouldn’t need to create an artificial issue by asking loaded questions on a poll. The SCOTUS may not have made the popular decision, but it made the correct one.