When the Citizens United case came down, the immediate conservative response was that this was good for free speech and that it wouldn’t really have much of an effect upon the American political landscape anyway. The Committee for Truth in Politics has just single-handedly defeated that already flimsy argument.
The group had been enmeshed in a lawsuit with the Federal Elections Commission which was put on hold until the Citizens United case was decided. Now that the Supreme Court had decided that corporations can pour as much money into the political process as they want, the Committee for Truth in Politics has started up their lie machine again.
Their latest campaign is an ad that claims that the financial reforms Democrats are trying to pass in Washington are really another huge bank bailout in disguise. Sigh. Only the right could take a crackdown on Wall Street and turn it into a handout.
The thing is, there is a much closer bond between Citizens United and the Committee for Truth in Politics than their penchant for smudging reality: James Bopp Jr. The right-wing attorney for the Committee for Truth in Politics was also the guy who turned the clear-cut Citizens United case into a broad ruling on corporate speech rights. From a New York Times profile of Bopp (emphasis mine):
It was Mr. Bopp who had first advised the winning plaintiff, the conservative group Citizens United, about using its campaign-season film “Hillary: The Movie” as a deliberate test of the limits on corporate political spending. And he shepherded the case through appeals to the Supreme Court as part of a long-term legal strategy that he says he has just begun.
“We had a 10-year plan to take all this down,” he said in an interview. “And if we do it right, I think we can pretty well dismantle the entire regulatory regime that is called campaign finance law.”
“We have been awfully successful,” he added, “and we are not done yet.”
The case, later described in the piece as “Jim’s brainchild,” was just part of a larger strategy to allow corporations to speak for Republican political ideals in elections. Bopp has his tentacles in many areas of the American political landscape, and this latest dirty trick appears to be his attempt to be the Lorax of the banking world.
The the Committee for Truth in Politics ad claims that the House bill, passed last year with no Republican support and awaiting its turn in the Senate, amounts to a “new $4 trillion bailout for banks.” The ad then targets a local lawmaker who is apparently at fault for the legislation.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) is but one of those many victims; the ad is running in at least 35 markets according to FactCheck.org. Yesterday the senator put out a press release publicizing a letter he send to Bopp and his colleague, Bill Peaslee, calling out their lies.
Tester says the ad “bails out on the truth” and that it “is flat out false.” In his letter to the two men, the senator notes that not only is he “the only Senate Democrat to have voted against both the bailout of Wall Street and the bailout of the U.S. auto industry,” but that “there is no bill before the Senate to bail out big banks.”
So how did the group turn H.R. 4173, called the “most sweeping overhaul of the nation’s financial regulatory system since the Great Depression,” into a $4 trillion bank bailout?
For the first time, Congress is putting limits on the Federal Reserve’s power to bail out companies. The new rules would require the Fed to get permission to loan out money to failing companies, and would also limit that payout to — you guessed it — $4 trillion. Viola! The ad practically writes itself.
Obviously, the Committee for Truth in Politics is a finely-tuned lie machine. In its short history, the Committee has spent the majority of its time and money on straight-up falsehoods. One anti-Obama ad wrongly claimed that the then-candidate supported early release programs for convicted sex offenders.
National Public Radio’s Secret Money Project reported that the group is estimated to have spent at least $1.2 million on anti-Obama ads during the 2008 campaign. It’s likely they’ve spent much more, but they’re arguing with the Federal Elections Commission that they shouldn’t have to disclose how much money they have or how much they’ve spent and on what. In the interim, they’re flouting the law by refusing to file legally-required paperwork.
So, in addition to calling out the lies in the ad, Tester calls on the “secretive organization” to disclose its donors. The nonprofit corporation is registered with the Secretary of State in North Carolina as of September 2008, but it has failed to file with the Federal Elections Commission as well as the IRS. Hence the lawsuit that kept the committee from fully functioning until after the Citizens United case was decided.
But the recent decision doesn’t mean the Committee for Truth in Politics is out of hot water. Quite the opposite, really. The Supreme Court affirmed eight-to-one that disclosure laws should remain in place. That means that while Bopp’s groups can spend whatever they want to spread their lies, they still should have to disclose who they’re lying for.
Of course anyone who’s been paying attention could tell you who’s bankrolling this particular ad (pun intended). Still, I imagine Tester’s press release would have been much easier to write if he could have called out the Wall Street-funded Committee for Truth in Politics for lying, rather than simply asking why “a secretive organization would spend so much good money to keep referees off Wall Street.”
Of course, a different solution would be simply removing from the legislation the Fed’s ability to bail out companies entirely. That might teach Bopp and his banker friends to be careful what they wish for.
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