Does David Gregory understand the Citizens United decision? You tell me…
One result of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision—a landmark case which established that political ads are a form of speech protected under the First Amendment—is that so-called Super PACs (a technical term meaning: “independent-expenditure only committees”) can now collect and spend unlimited amounts of money on attack ads, so long as they do not coordinate with the candidates.
“Unlimited” is the key word. Also important: “so long as they do not coordinate with the candidates.”
Journalists reporting on the campaign are required to understand these basic facts. Having nice hair, smooth diction and a winning smile does not exempt them from this demand.
If the candidates try to control the Super Pacs or tell them what to do, they violate the law. But as long as the PACs operate “independently” (that is, independently to all appearances…) they are free to gather the cash and bring the bash.
What makes the Super Pacs so scary and so significant is the legal fiction of their independence. Obviously, it is in the interest of candidates to preserve this fiction. That is what makes possible astounding events like the $5 million donation from a single donor to the Super Pac supporting Newt Gingrich. The money will be used for attack ads aired in South Carolina and aimed at Mitt Romney, a turn of events that would have been impossible before the Citizens United decision.
Got it? I hope so. But if you don’t, that too is part of the import of the Citizens United decision. Opacity undermines accountability.
So… This is from the transcript of the Republican candidates debate on Meet the Press yesterday, moderated by David Gregory.
MITT ROMNEY: But I do think the rhetoric, Mr. Speaker, I— I think it was a little over the top
NEWT GINGRICH: You think my rhetoric was over the top, but your ads were totally reasonable. I just want to understand-
NEWT GINGRICH: I’ve taken the governor’s advice
MITT ROMNEY: Mr. Speaker, the— the Super PACs that are out there running ads, Ron Paul’s, mine, yours, as you know, that is not my ad. I don’t write that ad. I can’t tell them not to
DAVID GREGORY: Well, how about this— would you both agree to take these super PAC ads down?
MITT ROMNEY: But Mr. Speaker, I— I wouldn’t call some of the things you— you’ve called me (UNINTEL). That’s just over the top.
DAVID GREGORY: Would you both agree that— to— to request that these Super PAC ads be taken down?
Request that the ads be taken down? Huh?… That’s what David Gregory said. But what sense does that make? And what does Gregory think he’s doing here?
The whole import of the Citizens United decision is that candidates can benefit from unlimited donation and unlimited expenditures as long as they don’t coordinate with the Super PAC’s that advertise to their benefit. If they tried to coordinate, if they said something like, “Take those ads down, and our opponent will do the same…” they would in all likelihood be VIOLATING THE LAW. What a great excuse for not doing it.
Does Gregory understand that? It’s not clear. If he does, then what the hell is he asking? If he does not, then why the heck is moderating this debate?
But he’s not alone. Last week, Erin Burnett of CNN acted out the same confusion. On her wretched, embarrassing, nails-on-the-chalkboard CNN program, she asked a Romney representative the following question…
BURNETT: All right. And a final question on super PACs. I know there’s been a lot of comment about this, a lot of frustration among people like Newt Gingrich, about super PACs that were supporting Mitt Romney running negative ads in Iowa. Mitt Romney was on — with Joe Scarborough saying he doesn’t like super PACs and wish they didn’t exist. Now, Barack Obama said the same thing and he’s got super PACs. So, if the general election ends up being Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, would Mitt Romney say let’s shake hands and no super PACs?
Our journalists need to get something straight, or at least learn to fake an understanding of the law. Candidates can now benefit from unlimited donations to their cause as long as they don’t formally coordinate with the Super PACs that collect the money. Asking them to coordinate is silly, trivial, idle, mindless, naive and stupid… a vacation from the facts in front of us.
David Gregory and Erin Burnett are either incompetent or deluded or both. The only other explanation I can think of is that they’re seduced by their own games of puppy gotcha.
My verdict: Study up, or get off the fuckin’ air…
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