PIRG’s ‘Democracy Advocates’

August 14, 2009   •  By Jeff Patch
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The most annoying thing in a recent blog post from a PIRG staffer wasn’t her breathless criticism of corporations, which she likens roughly to vampires. It’s the irritating habit of the PIRG writer insisting on calling herself perhaps the most ridiculously euphemistic term for lobbyist: “Democracy Advocate.”

When I covered lobbying for Politico, PIRG lobbyists would insist on being quoted as “Democracy Advocates” instead of lobbyists or even something bland and common like government relations director (I demurred, in case you were wondering, and went with “of U.S. PIRG”).

It’s PIRG’s subtle way of saying, “We’re better than everyone else. You see, we’re not really lobbyists — even though we have nine federally-registered lobbyists on staff in 2009. We’re do-gooders fighting for the public interest and good government, and our opponents are just sleazy, corporate-funded hacks fighting against democracy.”

Such self-righteousness is clear in “Democracy Advocate” Lisa Gilbert’s latest blog post on the implications of Citizens United v. FEC.

The piece has two embellishments that anti-speech propenents love to engage in: implying the case is about whether ACME corporation can give a gajillion bazillion dollars to candidate Jones rather than independent expenditures out of the control of a candidate (PIRG describes a “…violation of the longstanding ban on corporate contributions to federal campaigns,” and “Unlimited corporate giving in election…”). An aside: even direct contributions to candidates in states like Virginia have had no apparent corruptive effect on candidates, despite hysterical rhetoric from “reformers.”

The other item of misinformation is a favorite of the campaign finance “reform” crowd: pretending a revolution in small donors has changed the campaign finance landscape, so the government should push a scheme of taxpayer funded campaigns on candidates. As we’ve mentioned before, small donors to President Obama’s campaign represented 26 percent of Obama’s $750 million haul — one percent more than small donors to the 2004 campaign of President George W. Bush. Furthermore, large donors and bundlers helped the campaign build an infrastructure to capitalize on later small donors. As Politico put it: “The impressive fundraising Obama demonstrated in 2007 was largely a result of the usual high-dollar contributors — not the small-dollar donors the campaign liked to hold up to the press. ‘It wasn’t the Internet,’ admitted Penny Pritzker, Obama’s national finance chair.”

The post focuses its indignation nearly exclusively on spending by PACs and invididuals associated with the oil and gas, insurance and securities industries with a slam against the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for good measure. One might get the impression than only corporations would be affected by Citizens United, but as PIRGers no doubt know, it would also free unions from the shackles of the government speech police and allow liberal — as well as conservative interests — to speak out on issues and candidates.

Citizens United isn’t a “battle between small donors and big spenders,” as PIRG puts it, or a battle between corporations and “regular citizens” or between conservatives and liberals. It’s a case about whether the government should be able to continue restricting the free speech rights of corporations, unions and other Americans who organize in the corporate form.

Jeff Patch

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