Mitt Romney, who once said yes, “corporations are people, my friend,” and has defended the Supreme Court’s decision that unrestricted — and now unprecedented — spending by corporations and unions on campaigns is protected under the First Amendment, is now whining that teachers’ unions may be giving too much money to Democrats, who are likely to be more sympathetic “at the bargaining table.” From the Washington Post this morning:
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said Tuesday that he thinks teachers unions should be banned from making political contributions because union leaders often negotiate contracts with Democratic politicians they’ve helped elect, a situation he called “an extraordinary conflict of interest.”
“I believe that we simply can’t have a setting where the teachers unions are able to contribute tens of millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians, and then those politicians, when elected, stand across from them at the bargaining table, supposedly to represent the interest of the kids,” Romney told host Brian Williams in a 45-minute appearance at NBC’s Education Nation Summit in New York.He said it is “a mistake” to allow unions to make such donations, which he argued represent “an extraordinary conflict of interest.”
“I think we’ve got to get the money out of the teachers unions going into campaigns,” he said. “It’s the wrong way for us to go. We have got to separate that.”
Add to that the silly charge that “the largest contributors to the Democratic Party are the teachers unions,” which can easily be refuted by a few clicks on OpenSecrets.org, and you’ve got a profoundly disturbing picture of how Romney understands politics in Washington — and the Constitution. Like it or not, the Supreme Court said
campaign contributions independent expenditures were the same as “speech” and ruled that corporations and unions are afforded the same free speech rights as individuals. This is something that Romney has said he supports, and he should know better than picking and choosing which organizations deserve the right just because he doesn’t like their politics. Are we getting just another glimpse of the real Mitt Romney, a man who doesn’t seem to believe in anything unless it is politically (if momentarily) expedient? Shame on him #1.
Shame on him #2: if Romney is going to start grousing about how money in politics is affecting the decisions politicians make in government he need not look farther than his own backyard. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which runs OpenSecrets.org, the largest contributions to the 2012 federal election are coming from the Finance/Insurance/Real Estate industry (FIRE), which primarily comprises insurance companies, securities and investment firms, real estate interests and commercial banks, according to CRP. The industry has given a whopping $422,907,981, so far, between 2011-2012.
Of this group, the biggest contributor is Goldman Sachs with a running total of $6.3 million this cycle. The second top contributor is Bain Capital, Romney’s former company, which has given $4.6 million, mostly to undisclosed outside groups. That’s a little more than the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.5 million teachers nation-wide. It gave $4 million, with about half to Democrats and half to outside groups. The “evil” National
Teachers’ Education Association contributed $7.2 million. These two unions pretty much represent the whole of the teachers’ unions’ influence on politics today. Meanwhile the entire labor industry contributed $78.4 million — far less than the FIRE industry which, with the generous assistance of their political friends on Capitol Hill, recently helped plunge this country into greatest economic disaster since the Great Depression.
Let’s move on to the defense industry, which Romney has promised to reward with heaps of new money in the form of contracts once he wins the White House. So far this industry — represented by top contributor Northrop Grumman ($2.3 million), followed by Lockheed Martin ($2.3 million), Boeing ($2.1 million) and Raytheon ($1.7 million), has given a total of $19.7 million, mostly (60 percent) to Republicans this year.
Let’s also keep in mind that the top defense contractors get most of their revenues from government contracts — they could not exist without the government. These companies field an army of lobbyists (defense spent more than $64 million on lobbyists in 2012) to persuade lawmakers who have enjoyed millions of dollars of defense campaign contributions, by the way, (some more than others — cough, cough — Republican Rep. Buck McKeon) to give them contracts worth billions and billions. All this, and Romney is calling the teachers unions’ ability to participate in the process just like everyone else, “an extraordinary conflict of interest”?
There are probably a lot of folks reading here who are less than enchanted with the influence of Big Money in our elections, and the seemingly irrevocable damage it has done to our ideal of a citizen-driven democracy. But the rules are the rules and Romney seems to be making up his own as he goes along.