The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United to allow corporations to spend money on political activities has become a primary target for liberals in Congress. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) wrote this year that “this spending will fundamentally distort our democracy, tilting the playing field to favor corporate interests, discouraging new candidates, chilling elected officials and shifting the overall policymaking debate even further in the direction of giant corporate interests and the super-wealthy.”
Sen. Sanders was seconded by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who said, “At a time when the public’s fears about the influence of special interests were already high, the Court’s decision stacks the deck against the average American even more.” Liberals, you see, want to defend the average American from corporate interests. Liberals want to stop special interest deals that “distort our democracy.” Liberals want to stand up to the “giant corporate interests” and “level the playing field.”
This fiction sells copies, but after last week, the true story was made plain: Congressional liberals voted overwhelmingly to keep “tilting the playing field,” but rather than the playing field of democracy, it was the playing field of the market. These liberals might not like corporate political spending, but they certainly don’t have a problem giving them a reason to spend.
Last week, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) introduced an amendment to the highway bill that would have banned all energy subsidies—not just for some companies, but for all of them; not just for solar, wind, and other renewables, but for coal, oil, and natural gas. The amendment was defeated 72 to 26—all of those 26 who voted to stop “tilting the playing field to favor corporations” were conservatives, not liberals. Every single liberal who voted, including Bernie Sanders and Schumer, voted to continue subsidizing energy companies at the average American’s expense.
Not only did liberals not support “leveling the playing field,” they voted to tilt the playing field even further in favor of special interests the same day. 45 Democrats voted for T. Boone Pickens’ payoff plan—otherwise known as the NATGAS Act, which would provide tax subsidies to corporations who produce natural gas powered vehicles and fueling stations. Also on the same day, only four Democrats voted to end tax subsidies for wind energy corporations. In other words, liberals hate corporations—as long as they’re not corporations that they want to fund with taxpayer dollars.
Corporations “distort democracy,” but only so that they can distort the market. To oppose Citizens United and yet favor the very reason corporations spend so heavily on elections is extreme hypocrisy. The DeMint Amendment exposed the sad truth that for all the rhetoric about coal, oil, and gas subsidies creating an unfair energy market that benefits fossil fuels, progressives would prefer to continue to such distortions in favor of their own special interests rather than protect the average American taxpayer. So can we please put their populist myth to rest once and for all?