The Supreme Court ruled on McCutcheon v. FEC this morning, and American campaign finance restrictions got a little bit looser. I know what you’re thinking: finally, money can play some kind of role in electoral politics. In a 5-4 decision, the court overturned the individual aggregate limit on contributions to political parties, so you no longer need content yourself with donating a scant $48,000 to candidates every two years and $74,600 to party committees. Individuals can now give the parties of their choice as much money as they damn well please. As Chief Justice John Roberts put it, “there is no right in our democracy more basic than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.”
The Mitch McConnell campaign—which refers to itself by the parody-proof name “Team Mitch”—posted this video on YouTube last week. As you may have noticed, it contains no diegetic sound. There’s a weirdly contemporary electropop soundtrack, but at no point to do events in the video sync up with a particular element of the soundtrack or even narrative. It’s just footage of McConnell signing papers, turning alarmingly to the camera, shaking hands with a man in a tam and goatee whose vote cancels out yours, et cetera. You can dub whatever sound you want over this video, which, as The Daily Show has pointed out, makes it hilarious. It also makes it a free source of McConnell footage for whatever 501(c)4 organizations might want to produce ads to support him—but not coordinate with his campaign, since that is forbidden by law.
Last Thursday, House Republicans introduced a bill that would make it illegal for the SEC to require publicly-held corporations to disclose their political spending. They did so in response to a popular petition asking the SEC to require publicly-held corporations to et cetera etc. At this point, the GOP is by far the most responsive party in American politics. The people issue a petition, and before the relevant government agency can even take it up, the Republicans have drafted a law demanding that it never be satisfied. They cited free speech. Welcome to the extremely ironic world of modern campaign finance.
Last night, Frontline aired its half of the Pro Publica story about documents found in a meth house suggesting that American Traditions Partnership coordinated with the Republican Party. ATP has been particularly active in Montana, suing to force the state to comply with Citizens United v. FEC in 2010 and, now, pursing a suit to overturn campaign contribution limits. ATP does not have to disclose its donors to the FEC, because ATP is not a political organization. As they helpfully explain in their press release, they’re a grassroots education nonprofit. One of their educational publications, for example, is the Montana Statesman, a website that just happens to run only articles about how awful various Democratic candidates are. The Statesman bills itself as “Montana’s oldest and most trusted news source.”
Say what you will about Montana—where, for example, the most liberal city in the state does not provide garbage pickup—we do preserve a certain political culture. The same Montana that devotes very little money to public services and has a legislature that meets for 90 days every other year was also one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana. When I first came to grad school here, it was legal to drink whiskey straight out of the bottle while driving on the interstate. Like the great libertarian states, Montana is suspicious of pretty much all laws; yet, like the great liberal states, it is also suspicious of corporate influence. Montanans are just suspicious generally. That’s why we have some of the tightest campaign finance restrictions in the country, and why Governor Brian Schweitzer took the New York Times yesterday to defend them.