The Chief Beneficiaries of Citizens United?

A CNN article by Jeffrey Toobin asserts, among other things, that

The political effect of, if not motivation for, the [Citizens United] decision was clear: Citizens United looks to be a big win for Republicans, who are the likely beneficiaries of the newly lubricated corporate largesse.

But is that really so? In California, one of the 26 states where independent expenditures for and against candidates have long been legal, a recent Fair Political Practices Commission report suggests that — among the top 10 independent spending committees, which together spent nearly half the total amount that was independently spent — unions probably outspent corporations by roughly 2 to 1 (click on the link for more details). [UPDATE: For greater precision, I added the material between the dashes, which I had originally omitted in this post, though I had included it in the post I linked to.]

Of course, perhaps things are different in other states (I haven’t seen any data from other states), and perhaps they will end up being differently in federal elections (no-one can know for sure until it happens). I’d love to see any more data on the subject, of course. I’d also love to see how lopsided union independent spending is in favor of the Democrats, and how lopsided corporate independent spending is in favor of the Republicans. If, for instance, unions spend overwhelmingly to elect Democrats while businesses split their spending more evenly (true for contributions by PACs to candidates, but I can’t say whether it would also be true for independent expenditures from unions’ and corporations’ general treasuries), then the net effect might favor Democrats even if corporations spend more total than unions do.

I asked Jeffrey Toobin whether he had more data on this, but he replied that his statement was an inference from two circumstances: (1) Corporations are generally much richer than unions. (2) Unions and union supporters have generally expressed upset at Citizens United, while business groups have generally expressed pleasure. And the inference seems plausible.

On the other hand, the inference is hardly dispositive. Corporations might be less inclined than unions to spend their wealth on independent expenditures, for instance, perhaps because corporations think that when they are identified as the funders, many listeners will be turned off from the message. And the overall tenor of unions and business groups’ statements may more reflect their political alliances than accurate predictions of the decision’s effect. It makes sense that those on the Left who are skeptical of the position of the liberals on the Court (and in the academy), and those on the Right who are skeptical of the position of the conservatives, would be more likely to stay quiet. And while this too is speculation on my part, it is supported by the one solid piece of evidence that I have: the California data.

So let me say again: I’d love to see whatever other data there might be in the 26 states that have long had a Citizens United-like regime in which corporations and unions were free to speak in favor of and against political candidates. Perhaps it will show that California was an anomaly, or perhaps it will yield results much like California’s. But it seems to me that before we hypothesize that Citizens United will clearly give more of an edge to Republicans, we ought to consider the data. And the data that I’ve seen so far actually points in the opposite direction.

UPDATE: When it comes to federal campaign contributions — not independent expenditures — corporate PACs outcontributions labor PACs by more than 4:1. But I’m not sure that data on money-limited contributions by PACs (PACs may only donate relatively small sums to each candidate under federal law) tell us much about unlimited independent expenditures by corporations and unions themselves; that’s why I’d like to see data, such as California’s, on actual independent expenditures from general corporate and union treasuries.

Still, if you do think that the results for independent expenditures post-Citizens United would mirror results for PAC contributions pre-Citizens United, then those would favor Democrats. Labor union PAC contributions favored Democrats by a 92%-8% margin and corporate PAC contributions favored Republicans only by a 51%-49% margin, so that the sum was a 57%-43% margin in favor of PAC contributions to Democrats.

FURTHER UPDATE: Commenter Blar points out that in 2004 and 2006, Republicans got substantially more corporate+union PAC money than Democrats. In 2002, the corporate+union PAC numbers were nearly evenly split.

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