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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Did Citizens United End Up Helping the Left?

Previous posts have looked at the way Democrats and their allies used Citizens United. At The Atlantic, Molly Ball quotes Michael Podhorzer, the political director of the AFL-CIO: "Super PACs are so awesome. It was long overdue that the Supreme Court recognized that corporations are people like everybody else."
Podhorzer, who spoke on a panel at the RootsCamp left-wing organizing conference, was being sarcastic--sort of. Progressives still really hate Citizens United. But in one of the most ironic turns of the 2012 election, groups on the left were some of the most skilled exploiters of the 2010 court decision.
Take Podhorzer, who got a new title this year: executive director of Workers' Voice, the super PAC the AFL-CIO started in April. Prior to Citizens United, under a 1947 law, unions were only allowed to communicate politically with their own members; they couldn't campaign to the general public. When the Supreme Court was hearing Citizens United, the AFL-CIO actually filed an amicus brief aimed at this provision--and got its wish.
The result, Podhorzer said, was like "taking off the handcuffs." The AFL-CIO and other unionsconducted door-knocking, phone-banking and advertising campaigns this year aimed at the general public in elections they hoped to influence, and made a big difference.
It was a similar story for Credo, a for-profit phone company that supports progressive causes. As a corporation, it was subject to pre-Citizens United campaign-finance restrictions that prevented it from spending money on campaigns. But this election cycle, the company formed a super PAC and targeted 10 vulnerable Republican congressional incumbents with an intensive, volunteer-based campaign of field organizing in their districts. Five of them, including firebrand Florida Rep. Allen West, were defeated.