By Alice Dubenetsky
There are a number of serious problems facing Vermonters right now. Voters who are revolting over ever-increasing property taxes are refusing to pass school budgets. People are struggling to deal with the new health insurance website and rising insurance costs. The legislature remains focused on an unworkable, unaffordable scheme to dismantle the state’s health care insurance and delivery systems. The state economy remains stagnant, due in large part to a tax system that is unfriendly to any chance of real growth, and our energy future is uncertain. These are important issues. They are hard issues that demand hard work from our elected officials. But what are they focused on instead? The Vermont Senate just voted to send a petition to the U.S. Congress requesting a Constitutional Convention that would “limit corrupting influence of big money in our electoral process.” Joint Senate Resolution 27 passed last week in a 25-2 vote. It seeks to overturn the decision in the case of Citizens United vs. The Federal Elections Commission – a case that was settled by the Supreme Court in 2010. The suit sought to limit corporate spending on political campaigns, but the Supreme Court held that it is a violation of the First Amendment for the government to restrict political expenditures by corporations, associations or labor unions.
It has long been the mantra of the liberal left that “big corporations” are subverting the electoral process by funneling huge sums of cash into political campaigns. Their very favorite whipping boys are the Koch brothers, who run Koch Industries, one of the largest privately owned companies in the U.S. However, what they don’t acknowledge for a second is the incontrovertible fact that labor unions far outspend corporations in an attempt to influence election outcomes. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who lately seems oddly unconversant with the truth, recently castigated the brothers from the Senate Floor, charging them with spending unlimited money to buy elections and “rig the system”.
In fact, according to recent reports in the Wall Street Journal, organized labor outspends other groups by about 4 times. According to a March 6 editorial, the Center for Responsive Politics list of donors from 1989 to 2014 ranks Koch Industries number 59 in funds donated. Eighteen labor unions outspent them by nearly $630,000,000. Union contributions are overwhelmingly going to Democrat candidates, according to the WSJ. In 2008 Democrats received 55% of funds contributed by corporate PAC’s. Ninety-two percent of union donations went to Democrats.
Unions routinely attempt to influence the outcome of elections, through contributions, by sending paid supporters to rallies, and even busing voters to polling places. Occasionally unions send paid thugs to intimidate and riot, as was the case in Madison, Wisconsin when Republicans, led by Governor Scott Walker, made good on their promise to rein in union influence on state spending.
Unions have had an undue influence on the Obama administration from the beginning, and Obama has made sure they receive the payback they “deserve” for their loyalty. He recently gave in to Big Labor’s demands and granted them an exemption from Obamacare provisions that the unions suddenly discovered would have an adverse impact on their members, even though the same unions campaigned tirelessly in support of the Affordable Care Act.
All of that aside, the Supreme Court has ruled that campaign contributions are an expression of freedom of speech – for everyone, not just for people and organizations the Democrats favor. To rule otherwise would have been a serious blow to the first amendment, because once the precedent has been set, other expressions of speech might also be deemed illegal. This particular administration has not exactly proven itself friendly to dissenting opinion and has no qualms about using government agencies to quell ideas and organization they disfavor. Consider the IRS’s attack on conservative groups and the Obama administration’s willingness to weaponize this brutal branch of government to silence American citizens.
Instead of dealing with Vermont’s real issues the Senators in Montpelier have decided to spend their time focusing on a matter that has already been decided by the Supreme Court, apparently because it is politically acceptable if wholly irrational.
The two dissenting votes on J.R.S. 27 were Senator Benning (R-Caledonia) and Senator McCormack (D-Wiindsor), both of whom foresee the danger of unintended consequences inherent in this initiative. Senator Benning explained his “no” vote in clear, rational language.
“I cannot support this resolution. On its face it seeks to soothe public reaction to the admittedly obscene amounts of money being spent in politics. But central to its mission is an unmistakable attack on freedom of speech.
“Its chief target is the case of Citizen’s United, a case which upheld the right of individuals, and groups of individuals who have pooled their resources, to fund their speech in accordance with the first amendment. As a legislator sworn to uphold all constitutional provisions, I refuse to bow to the prevailing public winds of passion.
“I believe Vermonters are intelligent enough to recognize speech they disagree with, no matter how many times they hear it, and have had the wisdom through the years to vote accordingly.
“I also fear, Mr. President, that a convention called pursuant to this resolution may bring us far worse than whatever ill is alleged by the holding in Citizen’s United.
“For those reasons Mr. President, I cannot support this resolution.”
There’s a good reason why a Constitutional convention has not been convened since the original one in 1787. Tinkering with the U.S. Constitution by calling for a convention could have terrible, unforeseen consequences. It is certainly not something that should be taken lightly, for purposes of political posturing. The First Amendment is the foundation of our liberty, from which all other forms of expression and personal freedoms flow in our nation.
It would be heartening to know that our state Senators were focusing on the real issues facing real Vermonters, but apparently they haven’t moved on from wasting time on inanities like voting to impeach President Bush in 2007. Our Senators would better serve the people of Vermont with real work rather than symbolic gestures that may briefly garner some measure of attention in the national press but do nothing at all for their constituents.