President Barack Obama made a number of accusations at his State of the Union speech on Wednesday. Chief among them was his attack on the Supreme Court, who sat a stone’s throw away from him in the House chamber, for their decision to roll back a number of campaign finance laws last week. (all bolding is mine throughout):
“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests –- including foreign corporations –- to spend without limit in our elections. I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities,” said Mr. Obama. He also urged Congress to “pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems.”
Usually, Supreme Court Justices sit still and silent with expressionless faces at the State of Union speeches. This time around, Justice Samuel Alito shook his head in disbelief and apparently mouthed the words, “not true” to Mr. Obama’s charge.
The New York Times‘ Linda Greenhouse has already explained why Mr. Obama was incorrect in his assertion.:
“The law that Congress enacted in the populist days of the early 20th century prohibited direct corporate contributions to political campaigns. That law was not at issue in the Citizens United case, and is still on the books. Rather, the court struck down a more complicated statute that barred corporations and unions from spending money directly from their treasuries — as opposed to their political action committees — on television advertising to urge a vote for or against a federal candidate in the period immediately before the election. It is true, though, that the majority wrote so broadly about corporate free speech rights as to call into question other limitations as well — although not necessarily the existing ban on direct contributions.”
While, Mr. Obama’s mistaken concern about foreign donors giving to American campaigns would be a result of the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision, it should be noted that his own 2008 presidential campaign involved questionable donors.
Only after the president’s 2008 win, in July of last year, his campaign returned foreign campaign donations coming from different 39 countries. (h/t The Hill):
According to Federal Election Commission reports filed last week, Obama for America last quarter returned more than $89,000 to foreign nationals. The foreigners came from 39 countries on six continents, stretching from Uganda to Haiti, Luxembourg to China and Egypt to the Philippines.…Federal election law requires illegal contributions to be refunded within 30 days of discovery, and that campaigns not spend any money that could be an illegal contribution until they determine its legality.
Newsweek ,in October of 2008, reported on two Palestinian brothers in the Gaza strip who managed to give $33,000 dollars to the campaign by buying a massive amount of Obama t-shirts through the campaign’s online store. The Obama campaign reportedly returned the money. However, one must wonder if smaller undetectable amounts of foreign donations from the online store found their way into the Obama campaign treasure chest. Untraceable Obama Campaign donations were also an issue reported on the trail in 2008.:
“The Obama organization said its extensive review has ensured that the campaign has refunded any improper contributions, and noted that Federal Election Commission rules do not require front-end screening of donations.
In recent weeks, questionable contributions have created headaches for Obama’s accounting team as it has tried to explain why campaign finance filings have included itemized donations from individuals using fake names, such as Es Esh or Doodad Pro. Those revelations prompted conservative bloggers to further test Obama’s finance vetting by giving money using the kind of prepaid cards that can be bought at a drugstore and cannot be traced to a donor.
The problem with such cards, campaign finance lawyers said, is that they make it impossible to tell whether foreign nationals, donors who have exceeded the limits, government contractors or others who are barred from giving to a federal campaign are making contributions.
‘They have opened the floodgates to all this money coming in,’ said Sean Cairncross, chief counsel to the Republican National Committee. ‘I think they’ve made the determination that whatever money they have to refund on the back end doesn’t outweigh the benefit of taking all this money upfront.’”
Obviously, the Obama campaign ran into these snafus well before the Supreme Court decision last week, but that did not stop Mr. Obama from applying a self-righteous tone towards members of the high court. This further instance of a “do as I say, not as I do” moment is hardly helping the president’s case, but it is unlikely to deter Democrats’ drive to create legislation to counter the legal decision.