Week In News: Corporate Money And The Campaigns

The Citizens United Supreme Court decision has made for a sea change in American politics, but not the change most observers expected. Weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz and The Atlantic's James Fallows discuss how corporate money has kept more candidates in the presidential race.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.




UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: A story of greed, playing the system for a quick buck, a group of corporate raiders led by Mitt Romney, more ruthless than Wall Street.

RAZ: That's part of an anti-Mitt Romney ad now running in South Carolina. The video is being distributed by pro-Newt Gingrich superPAC. And its message may be a sign of a growing philosophical split among the GOP candidates.

James Fallows of The Atlantic is with me now to talk more about that divide. Jim, this ad and others like it, are they perhaps an unanticipated consequence of the 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, which, of course, opened the floodgates for unlimited corporate money in elections?

JAMES FALLOWS: I think they are. And I think we're living through witnessing a really - a potentially very important change in the way that political campaigns are run. When the Citizens United ruling came down, most of the discussion involved the ways in which potentially magnify the impact of large institutional money in politics, whether corporations or perhaps labor unions were able to do more than in the past.

But so far, it seems as if the main effect in the Republican Party has been for a kind of chaos generation where more candidates are able to stay in the race longer and to wage these really damaging attacks on their opponents because they have money newly available to them, which would have been harder to obtain in the somewhat more organized circumstances of the pre-Citizens United ruling.

RAZ: In other words, in the old days, if a candidate was struggling in the primary, they would just quit, right? They wouldn't be able to raise the money.

FALLOWS: Yes. Indeed, in the olden days, the speed with which you could or could not raise money was an important factor. I think back to Gary Hart in 1984, when he actually won the New Hampshire primary over Walter Mondale but couldn't get enough new money quickly enough to stay in the race. And, of course, Mondale was the nominee.

But now, we find with the new superPACs relatively small amounts of money in the large sense of politics. Say, for example, the $5 million that the billionaire Sheldon Adelson has given to a Newt Gingrich supporting PAC could have enormous effects on, say, funding all the ads against Romney, like the ones you've described. The analogy, I think, of it - as if a ruling allowed everybody to walk around the street carrying bazooka, suddenly there's just a new level of pervasive potential for destruction that wasn't there before.

RAZ: Jim, what about the specific attacks on Romney by his fellow Republicans? I mean, this is supposed to be the party of free enterprise and yet Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry are sounding like anti-Wall Street populists. I mean, is there a split taking place in the party over this issue?

FALLOWS: This also is truly fascinating. From the time at least of Richard Nixon onward, the Republican Party has been very, very effective at using cultural similarities to meld together a coalition that has a lot of intrinsic economic differences. And so, in the last 30 or 40 years, we've gotten used to the Republican Party being pro-gun and pro-church and anti-media and anti sort of fancy, elite, political correctness.

And this created the problem or the situation that Thomas Frank described in his book "What's the Matter with Kansas?" where you had people who were economically disadvantaged to various ways by Republican policies who nonetheless were rock-ribbed Republicans because of this cultural alliance they felt with the Republican Party. So to have within the Republicans an attack on the economic policies that have been championed by the party over the last generation is very interesting, and we'll see how long the party allows this to go on.

RAZ: Finally, Jim, I want to play this ad for you. It's being released by the Gingrich campaign in South Carolina today.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney, he'll say anything to win. Anything. And just like John Kerry...

SENATOR JOHN KERRY: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: ...he speaks French too.

MITT ROMNEY: (Foreign language spoken)

RAZ: He speaks French, Jim. Mitt Romney can't possibly be qualified to be president.

FALLOWS: (Foreign language spoken)


FALLOWS: It's - there are times in American life where, number one, you're just overjoyed to be an American. And, number two, you wish that Mark Twain was still around. This is part of who we are. So as they say, (foreign language spoken).

RAZ: That's James Fallows. He's national correspondent for The Atlantic. You can find his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, (foreign language spoken).


FALLOWS: I'll just say thank you, Guy.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.