Democrats around the country are up in arms over last week’s Supreme Court ruling that struck down a major component of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.
The Court’s ruling does not allow corporations to the ability to make contributions to candidates, political parties, or political action committees. What it does is allow corporations to do is directly advocate for or against specific legislation or candidates. Corporations are still prohibited from coordinating their spending with candidates and political parties.
Democrats in all levels of elected office have voiced their opposition to the ruling. Iowa Congressman Leonard Boswell quickly introduced legislation amending the U.S. Constitution to restrict corporations and labor unions from running political ads. Senator Tom Harkin said that the ruling would funnel corporate money to Republicans.
Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal told Des Moines Register columnist Kathie Obradovich that he feared for the survival of democracy following the Supreme Court’s ruling on corporate contributions. Gronstal’s comments are ironic considering that Gronstal is the largest corporate fundraiser in the state. He has solicited corporate contributions for the Des Moines based Midwest Enterprise Group, a 527 group that is run by a former Gronstal aide, which focuses exclusively helping Democrats in the Iowa Senate.
Since its inception before the 2008 general election, the Midwest Enterprise Group has received $431,000 in corporate contributions. Almost every casino operation in the state has made large contributions to the Midwest Enterprise Group. Harrahs, Ameristar, Isle of Capri, Riverside Casino, and Penn National Gaming have all made corporate contributions of $5000 or more to Gronstal’s group. Gary Kirke, who operates Wilde Rose Casinos, has made personal contributions to the Midwest Enterprise Group. Other highly regulated businesses have also made large contributions, including ethanol companies, hospitals, phone companies, payday loan businesses, and energy companies.
If Gronstal really believes that corporate contributions will destroy our form of government, why does he ask for them and use them to help further his political agenda? Gronstal isn’t the only Democrat soliciting corporate contributions either. Speaker Pat Murphy does the same thing. House Democrats funnel money through a 527 group called Responsibility and Integrity Now Fund.
For better or worse, Republican leaders in the House and Senate don’t have front groups that allow them to take corporate contributions. Current gubernatorial candidate Chris Rants used corporate funds in his 527 group called the Iowa Leadership Council, but he is no longer in a leadership position that would allow him to solicit corporate funds.
The Supreme Court’s decision now allows individual businesses the ability to engage politically in a direct manner rather than making them route their money through groups like Gronstal’s Midwest Enterprise Group or Murphy’s Responsibility and Integrity Now Fund. That’s a good thing for the people of the United States and of Iowa. If a business like Iowa Health Systems, which operates Iowa Methodist Medical Center, Iowa Lutheran Hospital, Blank Children’s Hospital, and Methodist West Hospital wants to get involved politically involved, they should do so openly.
If Iowa Health Systems, who gave Gronstal’s 527 group $50,000, wants to advocate for the election of particular Democrat state senate candidates they should do so. They also should face the consequences of their political involvement. Forcing corporations to funnel money to ambiguous groups not only lets them hide their political agenda, but protects them from any fallout their political activity could bring.
The Supreme Court’s ruling could also open the door for additional challenges to campaign finance laws. Now that the Court has granted corporations political free speech rights by allowing them to advocate for or against legislation or particular candidates, it is only a matter of time before a corporation will challenge the part of the law that says that they cannot contribute directly to candidates.