Supreme Court campaign finance decision and Jewish clout
01/22/2010 - 11:25
James Besser

I had a bunch of calls and emails in the wake of yesterday's blockbuster Supreme Court decision on corporate political contributions basically asked the same question: what does it mean for Jewish political clout?

The decision overturned a half-century-old ban on using corporate money to endorse political candidates – or to oppose them.  The rationale of the Court's majority:  corporations basically have the same free speech rights as individuals.

Critics immediately claimed that the decision will open the floodgates to massive campaign spending by big corporate interests with a lot at stake on Capitol Hill, including pharmaceutical and health care giants and the oil and banking industries. Talk about stating the obvious.

Not surprisingly, Republicans were ecstatic about  the victory for “free speech,”  Democrats were predicting doom for environmental, financial and campaign finance reform.

What about Jewish political clout, which, after all, has a strong campaign finance component?

I put the question to Kean University political scientist Gilbert Kahn, who described the decision as “a watershed.  It can ultimately be modified or reversed through legislation but we're looking at a political impact that will last for years.  It will be transformational in terms of the impact corporate money will now have on campaigns.”

While the decision doesn't directly address the campaign finance activities of pro-Israel givers, it could have far-reaching implications on Jewish power, in general.

“What it does is dilute the impact of Jewish campaign money,” Kahn said.  “There is a finite amount of Jewish campaign money available.”

Corporate money, on the other hand, is for all practical purposes infinite.

Jews are big political givers, based mostly on the issue of Israel – but that could quickly be dwarfed by the mega-millions corporations are now likely to spend in pursuit of their special interests, starting with profits and limiting government regulation, he said.

Jewish campaign givers aren't going away and Jewish political clout isn't in jeopardy. But there's little question this week's Supreme Court decision will transform American electoral politics by adding to the campaign finance muscle of the biggest corporations – and diluting the influence of everybody else. And that includes Jewish and pro-Israel givers.

None of this gets to the question of whether the decision is good for a nation in which many claim corporations already have way too much power to affect policy and legislation - one reason the current health care debate has "disaster" written all over it.  

What I'm wondering: where are the liberal Jewish organizations? So far, not a single press release or statement in reaction to the decision.

I did hear from one of the most thoughtful members of the Jewish delegation in the Senate, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). Here's what Ben had to say about the decision:

A very activist Supreme Court has tipped the scales of justice further against American voters today, adding to the great imbalance that currently exists in U.S. campaigns. By effectively legislating in areas that Congress has set reasonable guidelines, the Supreme Court is swinging the door wide open for special interests and corporate America to have an even greater influence over our political system.  Congress must now work together in a bipartisan fashion to restore the original intent of the law.

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