Gearing up for the 2014 election, Max Baucus has announced that he wants to overturn the Citizens’ United decision of the Supreme Court, the ruling that blew the door open for corporations to spend unlimited money in elections. Baucus has put forth a constitutional amendment that would have the effect of reversing the ruling.
Baucus, however, has an enormous burden of proof to meet if he wants to be taken seriously on this issue. For starters, he voted for the confirmation of John Roberts, the Supreme Court chief justice who engineered the Citizens United decision.
And I suppose I should state the obvious, that Baucus is an unlikely person to be carrying the flag for clean elections since he is among the more prolific raisers of corporate cash in the Senate, and is known to reciprocate to donors with favorable legislation, especially when the pharmaceutical industry is the donor, Pharma having made an enormous investment in Baucus’s political career.
In fact, the Missoula Independent has a piece this week on this exact pattern. Just a few hours before Congress struck a deal to avert the fiscal cliff, the pharmaceutical industry hit the jackpot. Three Senators, Baucus among them, crafted special language and snuck it into the fiscal cliff compromise. It was done at such a late hour that most members of Congress didn’t even know about this insertion, until it was too late to remove. The incident was profiled in the Missoula Independent this week.
The language that was snuck into the fiscal cliff agreement said, basically, that the federal government’s Medicare program will now pay an over-market price to a company called Amgen, a drug industry behemoth, for a kidney disease medication. The concession is worth about $500 million to Amgen, and is a totally unnecessary waste of taxpayer money. Orin Hatch was one of the other Senators who helped craft this goody. Hatch almost lost his primary in 2012 to a Tea Party wingnut, but Hatch’s campaign was rescued at the last minute by an enormous expenditure by PhRMA, and specifically from Amgen.
When questioned by a New York Times reporter, nobody in Congress, not even the three sponsors of this piece of trickery, could articulate a valid purpose for overpaying Amgen by $500 million.
So if Baucus plans to spend the next two years talking about “an amendment to overturn Citizens United,” he must do more than just mumble that phrase. Specifically, he must clarify, in his own mind and to voters, what the purpose of such an amendment would be. Overturning Citizens United would do nothing more than allow Congress to regulate campaign spending more tightly. Such regulation could, in theory, prevent the sort of thing that Baucus and his friends have just done. Does he believe that such behavior needs to be prevented?
And of course, let’s not forget the most important part of this sad episode–that there is no free lunch. If Congress is constantly diverting revenue into the pockets of Fortune 500 CEOs who help out on campaigns, then Congress must either borrow that amount by going further into deficit, or must find revenue somewhere else–which which it has now done. The payroll tax increase, which was part of the fiscal cliff deal, will reduce the average Montana paycheck by about $1,200 a year.