A lot has been made on the left of the recent Supreme Court decision to allow corporations to exercise their First Amendment rights to free speech and participate in federal elections.
President Obama was at his hyperbolic (and hypocritical) best when he said “This ruling strikes at our democracy itself.”
This may be true, because his “democracy” was, in part, purchased by hundreds of millions of dollars in public employee union election spending, which, until last week, legally could not be matched by corporate spending. Liberals are much less concerned about the cause of free speech and democracy than they are about protecting the monopoly their allies in Big Labor have on campaign spending.
The part of the Supreme Court ruling ratcheting up liberal angst is that now corporations can write checks from their corporate treasuries to fund so-called 527 organizations, named after the section of the IRS code that regulates these entities.
527 organizations run the ads that you see on TV asking you to call your congressman on a particular issue. They are sponsored by organizations with nebulous names like “American Family Voices” or “The Fund for America.”
What is absent in the liberal pronouncement of the end of democracy as we know it is the fact that the vast majority of 527 spending in recent elections has come from the left—largely public employee unions and front groups funded by Big Labor money.
In 2008, for instance, according to data from the non-partisan “Center for Responsive Politics,” some 75 percent of 527 spending by the top 50 527 organizations was spent by organizations advancing a liberal agenda. Other analyses of 527 campaign spending show an even greater Republican disadvantage.
This massive spending by public employee unions explains a bit about how we have gotten one party rule in Washington.
It also explains a bit about why one-third of the $787 billion stimulus package went to state and local governments to support public employee jobs. Michael Barone, of the American Enterprise Institute, points out that while private-sector employment has dropped 6 percent during the recession, public-sector employment has dropped only 1 percent—even while state and federal governments wrestle with massive budget deficits.
The colossal investment by public employee unions in Democratic campaigns has paid off. More than 3.4 million Americans lost their jobs in 2009, but the number of state, federal and local government employees represented by unions rose by 64,000, according to a study of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the Heritage Foundation
Perhaps of greater concern than crass political payback through a pork-laden stimulus bill is the impact of public employee spending on the local level. In a trend that started in California and has spread nationwide, public employee unions have been pouring money into local city council races, then sit across the table to negotiate benefits with the very councilmembers they helped get elected. The result of having advocates on both sides of the table has been outrageous pensions for public employees that are causing municipalities to go broke.
With a ballooning bill for its pension fund, the City of San Diego recently commissioned a survey to ask residents which essential services that they would be willing to cut in order to fully fund the city’s pension system. San Diegans are being asked to choose between trash pick-up and libraries, while city bureaucrats retire with packages valued in excess of a million dollars.
The next time you flip by the shouters on MSNBC, or see the president of the United States call out the Supreme Court in a major speech, ask yourself where was the outrage at the excesses of public employee unions?
Liberals are always champions of free speech, as long as the speaker advances their speech.
Jason Roe is a founder and partner at Revolvis Consulting, a Republican campaign and public relations firm and is based in San Diego, Calif., and Washington, D.C. He has been involved in politics and public policy for nearly 20 years.