Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Campaign Finance Changes

I'm inclined to think this will give us a more *representative government* - why would you need a lobbyist if you could contribute to a campaign? Those with the *most money or connections* have always had a voice in DC; this would allow tribes to contribute directly to their *own* candidates of *choice*. As in the Freedmen vs Cherokee case; a contribution to a challenger in Watson's own district seems to have done more good than all the lobbyists in DC. DC has just beome a great big club, Tribes not Welcome! This could very well change that!

Campaign finance ruling impacts tribes
By Rob Capriccioso
Story Published: Feb 4, 2010

WASHINGTON – Many tribes already have trouble getting their voices heard in the American political system. A controversial Supreme Court campaign finance ruling may amplify the problem, according to political observers.

The ruling, handed down Jan. 21, throws out some major campaign finance rules, removing contribution limits on major corporations and unions.

The case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission centered on whether key parts of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, better known as McCain-Feingold, were constitutional.

Passed in 2002, the legislation made it a federal felony for a corporation to use any of its funds to criticize a candidate for federal office within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a November general election.

In a 5-4 decision, the high court decided that the legislation amounted to the federal government censoring organizations, which is unconstitutional. The minority said the decision was flawed because it ended up treating the voices of corporations as similar to those of people.

Tribal observers largely said the outcome could negatively impact tribes, as few have the kinds of influence with lawmakers as corporations and unions have. By lessening restrictions on those groups, many said the court has made it all the more difficult for tribes to be heard in the American political system.

“Native American interests have already been largely ignored in Washington,” said Heather Dawn Thompson, past president of the National Native American Bar Association and partner at the D.C. law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal.

“Even before this ruling, it has been an uphill battle for tribes with corporate and union interests active in political contributing, often against tribal interests.”

Thompson, who worked on getting the McCain-Feingold legislation passed when she was previously employed with the Appleseed Foundation, said she feared the decision will force the Native voice to the bottom of the agenda.

Daniel McCool, a political science professor at the University of Utah, agreed with the negative assessment. He said the ruling means that in a variety of areas where tribes have keen interests, like health care, banking and gaming, they will simply be widely outspent.

“In general, it’s a bad decision for the Democratic process, but particularly for Native Americans,” said McCool, co-author of the 2007 book “Native Vote: American Indians, the Voting Rights Act, and the Right to Vote.”

“It will concentrate enormous power in the hands of the richest elements: big corporations, trade associations, and wealthy individuals. There is no way that tribes, or anyone else, can compete with the level of money that these well-funded interests will throw into the political process.”

The one situation where McCool envisions that the ruling could benefit a tribe is in a local or rural race where a successful gaming tribe can afford to campaign on behalf of a friendly candidate.

“But what’s the wealthiest tribe compared to Exxon?” McCool asked. “Who can fund the greatest number of commercials?”

Gavin Clarkson, a tribal finance expert with the University of Houston Law Center, said the ruling could play out okay for tribes that can afford to make costly donations, but poorer tribes could face problems.

Kalyn Free, founder and president of the Indigenous Democratic Network political action organization, said the ruling offers all the more reason for Native Americans to get involved in the political system.

“The Supreme Court decision is bad all the way around for those who want and need representatives that are responsive to human interests, not corporate interests.

“But tribes can flex their political clout by supporting our own tribal members, so we are building farm teams that can run for higher office later as well as represent our interests at the local and state level now.”

President Barack Obama and many Democrats are strongly opposed to the ruling, and have promised to take action, although a constitutional fix would likely be needed, and those are rare.

“This ruling opens the floodgates for an unlimited amount of special interest money into our democracy,” the president said in his weekly radio and Internet message.

“It gives the special interest lobbyists new leverage to spend millions on advertising to persuade elected officials to vote their way – or to punish those who don’t.”