Senator Feingold completely loses track of reality

Skeptics of so-called campaign finance “reform” are used to a certain degree of hysteria, hyperbole, hokum, hypocrisy, and half truths coming from the “reform” community. Much of it simply boils down to the “reformers” unrealistic view of money in politics, although lurking under much of what the campaign finance “reform” community wants is a clear desire to silence and limit the free speech of those Americans who do not share their other political priorities and perspectives.

But today’s column by Elizabeth Newlin Carney of National Journal, “A World Without Rules,” is exceptional in the degree to which it shows “reformers” to have completely abandoned reality and the ability to think in a coherent fashion, and are simply attempting to inspire panic amongst the American public at the idea that a corporation or union might speak up in a campaign.

Carney’s piece in and of itself is fine – alarmist, with several errors, but otherwise not particularly notable. What stands out, though, is a quote the column attributes to Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI), co-author of course of the McCain-Feingold legislation. Carney reports:

…Congress’ chief reform advocates, Sens. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., and John McCain, R-Ariz., recently took to the Senate floor to defend the campaign finance rules they helped write. In a rare public challenge to the Supreme Court, both warned that if the court rejects longstanding corporate spending limits in its pending Citizens United v. FEC case, as many expect it will, the results could be disastrous…

Feingold …warned that knocking out limits on direct corporate spending “could have a truly calamitous impact on our democracy.” He pointed to a 2005 IRS estimate that puts the net worth of U.S. corporations at $23.5 trillion, declaring: “That is quite a war chest that may be soon unleashed on our political system.”

Seriously? Feingold really believes that corporations are standing by, with the potential to drop $23.5 trillion in independent expenditures advocating the election or defeat of candidates?

To say this is ludicrous is generous in the extreme. There is no $23.5 trillion “war chest” available to dastardly corporate titans intent on thwarting the will of the public by, horror of horrors, opining on politics.

In order to believe in the $23.5 trillion corporate piggy bank, you would need to believe that ExxonMobil is going to sell off all of its oil rigs and leases, and Pfizer is going to sell all of their laboratories and production facilities, and Wal-Mart is going to sell off all their stores, and the rest of corporate America is going to do likewise by selling their assets, and then they are going to use the sales proceeds to pay for independent expenditures. That, after all, is what comprises the net worth of America’s corporations – the value of their assets, less debts.

This seems unlikely, to say the least. ExxonMobil would be hard-pressed to make any profits at all without oil to sell, which they are not going to have if they don’t have any wells, tankers, etc. Pfizer is likewise going to find it a challenge to provide a return to shareholders without any product to sell, and I do not believe that Wal-Mart envisions abandoning the brick-and-mortar store in favor of spreading out their wares on a blanket at the side of the road.

And of course, in order to believe in this corporate piggy bank, you also have to believe that the shareholders of these companies are going to stand by and permit management to liquidate assets and reduce their investment to zero in order to run political ads.

Feingold’s remarks are clearly nonsensical, akin to planning the family budget by including income from the sale of tasty green moon cheese. That one of the most prominent advocates of campaign finance “reform” would suggest that corporate America has a $23.5 trillion piggy bank available to influence elections just demonstrates how divorced from reality the pro-regulation community has become.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.