Forget Citizens United, the real corporate money is Big Media and the revolving door


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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20 Responses

  1. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Another Atlantic notch?  Jealous!Report

  2. Avatar James K says:

    A very good piece Erik, you’re certainly right that things are a little more complicated than some of the opponents of The Citizens United case think it is.

    I’m reminded of the phone hacking scandal in England last year.  It turned out that pretty much every politicians of significance in the UK had spent time sucking up to Rupert Murdoch.  The reason is that if you can’t spend money to put out your message the next best thing is to convince part of the media to carry your water for you.  Concentrating power into the hands of the media instead of donors strikes me as a lateral step at best.Report

  3. Avatar Scott Fields says:

    E.D. –

    I enjoyed the Atlantic piece and agree that Big Media has undue influence. But I can’t get on-board with the idea that “Citizens United doesn’t change this so much as it levels the playing field.”  To level the playing field, Citizens United would need to counter some existing influence on politics. I think the reality is rather that Citizens United doesn’t change things, but it does exacerbate the issue as Big Media is just another flavor of Big Money influence.

    Sadly, you are probably right that Big Money will always find a way to thwart whatever legal barriers are put in the way. However, that can’t mean that the best course is then to roll over and not at least try to impede it.  As you rightfully note, transparency is what is critical and Citizens United (by all I’ve seen) makes the anonymity of contributors easier and therefore more likely.  The only way out of this morass as I see it is to eliminate PACs and other 527-like groups and then (lord save me, I’m going to agree with Gingrich) remove the limits on contributions to specific candidates in return for much greater contributor disclosure requirements and mandatory endorsement of the message by the candidate.  Forcing candidates to own every political message made on their behalf would have to have some kind of clarifying effect.

    As you and James K get at above, for transparency to matter people will have to pay greater attention. Perhaps, that is where social media and activists groups should come into play.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Scott Fields says:

      I just don’t see how any of these are enforceable. Ban 527s and PACs and you get something else. And why should the candidate have to endorse everything someone says about them that’s nice? I just don’t see how this would even work.Report

      • Avatar Scott Fields in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Ban 527s and PACs and you get something else.

        I don’t know how else to interpret this than “I give up. Politics corrupted by money is inevitable.”

        And why should the candidate have to endorse everything someone says about them that’s nice?

        I think it’s more about having candidates cop to everything said about their opponents that isn’t nice.Report

  4. Erik, nice article. I was on the fence about Citizens United up until I read it (to be honest, I’ve always found the topic kind of boring).

    It’s interesting to note that the Atlantic commentariat hive mind seems to believe that viciously attacking Murdoch isn’t enough to make up for using Colbert’s name in vain.Report

  5. Avatar sonmi451 says:

    Men like Henry Paulson made their fortune participating in the very activities that they were later asked to regulate. Little wonder, then, that they turn blind eyes to Wall Street. After Bush left office, the new Democratic administration brought men like Tim Geithner on board. The revolving door spins the same for those on both sides of the political aisle.

    A small quibble, Geithner might indeed shares Paulson’s buddy, buddy and too sympathetic attitude towards Wall Street, but unlike Paulson, I don’t think he actually made any fortune working for Wall Street. Except for a stint working for Kissinger(!!) early in his career, Geithner has spent his entire career in the public sector. That’s not to say that he won’t be passing through the revolving door after his stint as Treasury Secretary (I’m sure his pal Jamie Dimon can help him out), but it’s not accurate to say that he’s made any fortune from Wall Street as of now.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to sonmi451 says:

      Yes, that was pointed out to me. Truth be told, I thought I’d taken Geithner out of the final draft. I don’t want to go to the trouble now to do that, but I do take your point.Report

      • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        You’d be better off using the example of Clinton and Bob Rubin to illustrate the “The revolving door spins the same for those on both sides of the political aisle” point. Otherwise, it would just give ammunition for people to say that you’re just using Geithner inaccurately to make the both-sides-do-it!! argument.

        Truth be told, Geithner’s deference to Wall Street baffles me the most compared to Paulson and Rubin, precisely because he hadn’t make a fortune in Wall Street. He’s not really a creature of Wall Street, so where is that deference and overly-sympathetic view coming from?



  6. Avatar Tim Kowal says:

    Nice piece, Erik.  I enjoyed it very much.  Yours is kind of the angle I’ve been approaching things lately.


  7. Avatar Will H. says:

    The point about Big Media is likely true, but I’m not so sure that the “revolving door” is so much of a problem. It’s really more of an issue of expertise in a field, in many cases, I’d say.
    I’m having difficulty thinking of an appropriate parallel, so I’ll use myself as an example.
    I’m pro- cap & trade, but anti- carbon tax. But that’s because I’ve worked on a few of the new super-critical coal burners.
    I recently worked on a gasification facility. You can look up “Selexol” on Wikipedia to read a bit about the process. It removes the carbon pre-combustion.
    That would work for a cap & trade scheme, but those who would implement the technology would still be penalized under a carbon tax.
    I still see cap & trade as a means of a plant generating two products, becoming more profitable.
    For me, trucking ammonia in to a power plant doesn’t make sense. It’s an unnecessary risk to public safety. There are systems that will generate ammonia on-site. Why not use them?

    Now, were I to work in public service, I would advocate for those policies. As it is, I just stack the bricks on top of each other.
    But say I leave public service. I would still then advocate those policies, due to my expertise in the field.

    Now, if some trucking company paid me a gazillion bucks to say, “Let’s truck all the ammonia we can through the middle of downtown!” I might have to get out a calculator and do some figuring.
    Maybe it is that being a peon has its payoffs in the lack of moral quandries.

    Other than that, the rules for a connected committee or a candidate committee are far different than for a non-connected committee.
    I wanted to get into that a bit, but I think I’ve run over-long anyway.Report