Siding With the Rich and Powerful: The Journal’s Lack of Support for the Voice of the Citizenry

September 13th, 2014 · 1 Comment · campaign finance reform, Congress, inequality, tax policy, voting rights

By Denise Tessier

Unlike the Albuquerque Journal, New Mexico Telegraph blogger Matt Reichbach saw the importance of one particular news story from Thursday. The first entry on his “Morning Word” list of stories from around the state today was this:

• As expected, a Republican filibuster blocked the passage of a constitutional amendment to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. Sen. Tom Udall was the sponsor of the amendment. After the vote he said he was “encouraged” by the growing support for the Citizens United repeal.

In contrast, the Journal treated its version of that story with a resigned, ho-hum attitude exhibiting all the signs its editors were focused on the “as expected” aspect of the story – or worse, were downplaying it on purpose.

First it buried the story on the back page of the A section. Then, the Journal’s headline framed the story as a “failure” by Udall (“Udall effort to counter high court rulings fails”) when it should have put the onus on Republican obstructionism, paid for by the very (rich) persons whose political influence the high court ruling protects.

The fault, dear Brutus, lies not with Journal reporter Michael Coleman’s dispatches from Washington, D.C.  Coleman’s story this morning was straightforward and complete in both reportage and tone. His previous report Tuesday in advance of Thursday’s congressional vote (“Udall, Senate Dems force debate on campaign finance amendment”) was similarly straightforward and complete.

But editors decided Coleman’s first story this week didn’t even merit the A section. It was banished to the middle of the second page of Section C, below police blotter stories and a photo of a child finger-painting.

How should the Journal have treated this story?

Considering that a huge segment of the population favors congressional action that would specify that corporations are not “people” and that money is not “speech”, and

Considering that a New Mexico senator is among those fighting to limit the influence of wealthy special interest groups in elections, and

Considering that the Albuquerque Journal is the self-proclaimed leading news source in the state, then,

The Journal should have given these stories greater prominence and championed the New Mexico senator’s efforts by taking an editorial position.

Instead, it has served up a couple of editorials calling for “transparency” and has subjected readers to articles like this morning’s George Will column, which stubbornly supported the view of those to whom he is beholden (“48 Democratic senators sign assault on free speech”).

The conservative columnist claimed in his column that the founding fathers definitely meant money was to be protected when they wrote that “Congress shall make no law .. . .abridging the freedom of speech.”

In contrast to the Journal’s meek editorial approach, other New Mexico newspapers have come out in support of efforts to reverse Citizens United. El Defensor Chieftain in Socorro – a Journal “sister” publication – in a 2012 editorial lauded Udall and supported what was then not a constitutional amendment, but an act of Congress, leading its editorial by saying:

As the public continues to see the harmful effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision first hand in the Republican primaries, a group of U.S. Senators has announced new legislation to address the worst of the problems caused by the decision.

The Disclose Act of 2012, cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, will help put an end to secretive campaign spending by strengthening disclosure laws.

Not surprisingly, the Santa Fe New Mexican also has taken the side of the citizenry. In its April 2014 editorial just after the McCutcheon Supreme Court ruling, which expanded Citizens United by allowing corporate donations to be unlimited, the New Mexicans’ editors wrote that:

Now, without a limit, billionaires — whether the Koch brothers or George Soros — can donate to as many congressional campaigns, for example, as they chose. On top of that, the donors can donate to political parties and PACs.

To combat this, the New Mexican urged revival of the Disclose Act that was defeated in 2012, adding:

More broadly, we strongly agree with New Mexico U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, (whose). . . amendment would explicitly grant Congress the power to regulate money in politics. It rebuts the canard that spending money is equal to free speech. . .

Citizens do not have to accept this. By demanding transparency and amending the Constitution to give Congress authority, we can take our government back.

The Journal’s editorial tack has been much different.

In March 2012, a Journal editorial agreed with Udall’s position on the Disclose Act and said it deserved “bi-partisan support.” The body of the editorial, however, was oddly focused not on out-of-state millions from partisan groups, but singled out for condemnation two small local non-profits that had sent out mailers. It did not name them, but said:

In New Mexico’s 2008 election, two nonprofits sent out fliers criticizing state legislators’ voting records. When the state tried to force them to make disclosures, a federal judge ruled they didn’t have to. Even though they clearly were spending money for political purposes.

One of those two groups was the Center for Civic Policy, host of ABQJournalWatch.com, which despite the last line of that editorial paragraph was clearly not spending money for political purposes, according to the ruling in federal court. The Journal was taking an opportunity to repeat its failed position on the state mailings, instead of focusing on the real threat to citizen input – big money.

Then last year, the Journal mentioned Citizens United in an editorial with the ominous headline “Dark Money Spreads in New Mexico” (Oct. 30) but fell short of advocating for congressional action. It merely concluded that:

These groups are wielding increasing influence on the political landscape – thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision which basically said corporations, organizations, unions and others can spend as much as they want as long as they don’t coordinate their activities with candidates.

But no matter the political bent, Americans deserve to know who is behind the money these groups are spending to influence public policy.

The editorial included a laundry list of New Mexico political “dark money groups” both Democrat and Republican. But this time it actually mentioned the Center for Civic Policy by name, even though it was not a dark money group, saying CCP “has targeted lawmakers by pointing out their voting records on issues.” (Again, it could not avoid adding that CCP “argued successfully in federal court that its efforts are educational and are not electioneering.”)

So far in light of the Udall “failure,” the Journal editorial page has been silent, except for the column by Will.

Perhaps an editorial will appear over the weekend. But it is unlikely it would go beyond the usual bashing of unions and local non-profits to focus on the real problem: that ordinary citizens no longer have a voice.

A tiny portion of the U.S. populace is choosing our office-holders by financing their campaigns. At the same time, it is routing from office those who might advocate policies this tiny elite finds inconvenient.

In a fundraising letter released after the filibuster, Udall wrote:

Citizens United has pulled the rug out from under our election system. It gives special interests – like those backed by Karl Rove and the Koch brothers – the all-clear to spend unlimited and unchecked amounts of money in our elections.

“In an America where money equals speech, Koch is king,” Lauren Windsor wrote in The Nation about this June’s secret billionaire summit hosted by the Kochs in California. (The last secret summit of this kind was held in New Mexico, and was barely covered by the Journal.)

Windsor’s story about the summit quoted one source as saying 300 individuals — worth at least a billion each — were in attendance, adding:

This source said that the explicit goal was to raise $500 million to take the Senate in the 2014 midterms and another $500 million “to make sure Hillary Clinton is never president.”

Three hundred billionaires in attendance is likely an exaggeration; to put that figure in perspective, there are 492 total billionaires in the United States by Forbes’s count.

But she added that:

The Koch network raised an estimated $407 million in the 2012 presidential election, according to an analysis by The Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics.

The impact of this influence is clear. Caught on tape at the summit, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told the billionaires that he would “go after” healthcare, financial services, and the Environmental Protection Agency, “across the board,” according to a story in The Nation. He said: “Democrats are the party of government,” and Republicans are “the party of the private sector.” (A transcription is available here.)

McConnell, who thanked the Kochs by gushing “I don’t know where we’d be without you,” has led a staggering record number of roadblocking cloture votes during his tenure as minority leader.

According to the Huffington Post, two other GOP congressmen – Arkansas’ Tom Cotton and Iowa’s Joni Ernst – noted during speeches that this year’s summit was their second and that they had “gone to the New Mexico event as politicians of less stature. The Koch network has since helped usher them to the doorsteps of the United States Senate.”

The Huffington Post story quoted an official as saying the Koch network’s political advertising budget would be $290 million this year.

In a recent interview with NPR’s FRESH AIR, political media consultant Neil Oxman (who has managed ad campaigns in more than 700 races around the country) said the biggest change in his career has been the advent of Citizens United.

In an interview with Dave Davies, Oxman said “30 years ago when we started, a good congressional campaign in any district in America might spend $200,000 on TV. Now a good congressional campaign any place in America spends two to $3 million on TV . . .unbelievably beyond the cost of inflation.

He added that PACs are spending more than candidates. From the interview:

When there is a competitive congressional race, outside money floods in, and it becomes a nationalized election. We’re really not talking exactly about citizens choosing their own representatives. We’re talking about national interest groups bombarding people with messaging.

He added this:

Of the 435 congressional districts in America, very, very few now are really competitive. If you sit and look at the Almanac of American Politics from 10 years ago and 20 and 30 and 40 years ago . . .there at one point would be between 150 and 200 legitimately contested congressional races in America. Now you’re down, literally, to 50, or fewer than 50 because of redistricting and re-apportionment.

And so you have so much money flowing into so few congressional districts. You have 300 congressional districts where not a penny is spent. And you’ll have 50 where five or $10 million or more is spent on a congressional campaign. What used to be spent on a major statewide campaign is spent on one little race for Congress.

And it has changed the character of the advertising, Oxman said, making it “much more negative.”

In failing to advocate for the citizenry, the Journal ignores history. Taxation without representation was the complaint of American colonists, first when England imposed the Stamp Act on paper, and again when it imposed a tax on tea, with revolutionary results.

The wealthy – who, through loopholes and accountants manage to pay as little as possible in taxes –wield the power in Congress, while the average American/New Mexican pays taxes with virtually no voice in those legislative halls.

Journal editorials need to go beyond the petty to the bigger picture. The Journal needs to take a stand for the citizenry.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Bill Tiwald

    The Urinal is the 17th most Republican daily news rag in the country, It’s the mouthpiece of the conservatives.

    Recently the Urinal had a story on Susana’s education policies. It was a poll by Republican Brian Sanderhoff. It noted over 70% approval of her 3rd grade retention initiative. I teach high school and have 20 year students whao are foul mouthed, sexually active, drink and take illicit drugs and are violent. I test them and they have reading scores form 2nd to 8th grade. Would the governor’s policy result in these students housed in the same classrooms with 8 year olds?

    The dark money articles always fail to mention how little the unions can contribute to the political campaigns and PACS and how little dark money the non profits like Americans for Prosperity and American Crossroads contribute.

    There is never an article about how the governor is taking money from out of state and British corporations whom she does business with. It’s all about Richardson’s jet. I’m sure she has a jet too. She gets around so much.

    The Urinal also fails to mention Nate Silver’s propinion and the NY Times/CBS Poll that has Gary King within 5% of Susana nor that she has support from only 49% of registered voters. They also atttack “the radical left wing Mother Jones”utube videos where Susana makes fun of Hispanics who don’t speak proper English and calls Diane Denish , “that bitch…”. The Urinal has a story that she speaks proper English and her campaign ads showing her teaching proper English to elementary school kids. “That bitch…” is proper English?

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