The bloody edge of the national debate over campaign finances is playing out in an unlikely place: The race to replace Tim Pawlenty as Governor of Minnesota.
Earlier this year, in the Citizens United vs. FEC ruling the Supreme Court gutted a myriad of laws restricting contributions from corporations to candidates. Proponents of free political speech heralded the ruling as a much-needed roll back of government overreach. Democrats, up to and including President Barack Obama, have railed against the ruling. More recently, Obama himself has gone to bat for new limits on campaign finances being considered in Congress describing the Citizens United ruling as “damaging to our democracy” and allowing “corporate and special interest takeovers of our elections”.
In Minnesota, retail giant Target quickly took advantage of the ruling to make contributions a group called MN Forward which, in turn, is supporting the campaign of Tom Emmer who has the MNGOP endorsement in the gubernatorial race.
Liberal interests haven’t taken kindly to Target’s contributions, forcing the CEO himself to defend the company’s contributions. Ostensibly, what is upsetting these leftists is Emmer’s opposition to gay marriage. But really, I think liberal interests just want to make an example out of Target as one of the first major American corporations to test the political waters made available to them by the Citizens United ruling.
The point, I think, is to target…uh…Target with protests and rhetorical attacks to the point where other companies and corporate interests looking at entering the political fray on the side of Republicans/conservatives are given pause.
They’re not going to get the courts to put things back they were any time soon, and Democrat efforts on the DISCLOSE Act aimed at replacing those gutted campaign finance laws is stalled in the Senate and unlikely to pass before Democrats lose their majority in one or both houses of Congress this fall. So poisoning the waters for corporations wanting to support specific candidates or political causes is the only trick left in their bag.
Which isn’t really fair. Why is a business like Target supporting a candidate any different than a union like the SEIU or the AFL-CIO supporting a candidate or cause?
Whether we’re talking about a business or a labor union or an advocacy group, we’re still talking about self-organized groups of people. And people have free speech rights and freedom of association, and by extension so do the organizations they associate with.