Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Targeted campaign ads

Very interesting post, Mr. Gillette.  It will certainly be interesting to see how this plays out -- both in the specific case of Target's contribution and the broader context of this fall's elections.

But it's worth thinking about what would have happened if Section 203 of the McCain-Feingold bill were still intact.  That provision, which is what the Supreme Court struck down in Citizens United, did not say that "corporations aren't people"; it did not say that "corporations have no first amendment rights"; it did not even say that "corporations cannot direct money towards electioneering."  Instead, it set out a very specific way for corporations to spend money on independent electioneering within 60 days of a general election (or 30 days of a primary):  they had to do it through a political action committee.  In other words, they had to set up a PAC and give money to that PAC, which could then use it on independent political expenditures.

So if it had wanted to, Target easily could have set up a PAC, given it $100,000, and then had that PAC help MN Forward finance the ad supporting Mr. Emmer.  The only difference post-Citizens United is that Target can spend funds out of its general treasury to support the pro-Emmer ad.

My belief is that money will find a way.  As long as there are no restrictions on campaign expenditures all efforts to limit campaign contributions are futile.  (Interestingly, this regime -- limits on expenditures forbidden, but limits on contributions allowed -- is mandated by the Supreme Court's decision in Buckley v. Valeo.)

The irony here is that Target probably would have been a lot better off under the old system set up by McCain-Feingold -- if it had just laundered the funds through a PAC, it's likely nobody ever would have noticed the connection . . .

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