The discordant ideological battles being waged in the halls of Congress, on the airwaves and in cities big and small around the United States will not ease soon, congressional scholar Thomas E. Mann told participants March 4 at the Belle R and John H. Braun Memorial Lecture hosted by The John Marshall Law Review.
The sharp divisions between Democrats and Republicans are characterized at times by the seeming denial by responsible people of provable facts dealing with such key issues as health
care, the stimulus, the automaker intervention and the cost of the financial bailout, said Mann, senior fellow and W. Averell Harriman Chair at the Brookings Institution. “I hope we come to a point where we can actually talk about these things once again,” he said. “There are reasons for
argument and disagreement, but instead now we just have the most banal and stylized and ideological of debates.” Mann’s speech was presented as part of a symposium focusing on the impact of Citizens United v. Federal Communications Commission, in which the United States Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions have the same political speech rights as individuals, and are able to use general treasury funds for election-related expenditures.
The kind of discord that affects the broader political realm also impacts the campaign finance system, Mann noted. “Eventually we’ll come to our senses,” he said, with new leaders arising and the emergence of a new political force similar to what happened after a period of intense political polarization early in the 20th century. “It’s going to be something big like that, that’s going to produce change that we can actually believe might do some good,” he said.
Mann called the Citizens United ruling “a solution in search of a problem” and said that corporations and wealthy individuals faced few restrictions on their efforts to influence
politics. Currently, the most promising area of policy development focuses on financing campaigns with public money that would be tied not to spending limits but distributed as matching funds on small donations from individual citizens, according to Mann. The strategy provides an incentive both for candidates to seek smaller donations and for citizens to participate financially in the election process, he said. Looking toward the 2012 elections, Mann said he expects to see more prospecting for small donors via the use of the Internet and social media, more bundling of large individual contributions and growth in super PACs, which allow independent groups to both raise and spend money. And it’s reasonable to assume, Mann said, that President Barack Obama will raise a billion dollars: “And this time he won’t have any primary challenger, so it all goes for the general election which will run an entire year.