‘We Might As Well Be Able To Vote For Disney’: Tea Partiers Slam Citizens United Ruling

February 3, 2010 4:20 a.m.

Some Tea Partiers are expressing vocal opposition to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling striking down the ban on corporate political spending — a stance that puts them at odds with the Republican Party and the broader conservative movement.

Just hours after the court ruled last month, RNC chair Michael Steele praised the decision, calling it “an important step in the direction of restoring the First Amendment rights” of corporations.But some Tea Partiers don’t agree. Shane Brooks, a Texas-based Tea Party activist, told TPMmuckraker in an email:

This decision basically gives the multinational corporations owned by foreign entities [the right] to pour unlimited funds into the pockets of corrupt corporate backed politicians to attack everything this country stands for. We might as well be able to vote for Disney or the SEIU as President of the United States of America.

In a recent blog post, Kevin Smith of the Nashville Tea Party wrote that the ruling “puts corporations in a position to crowd out smaller competition and buy politicians from the local sheriff to the President himself.”

In a statement provided in the wake of the ruling to the Reid Report blog, Dale Robertson, the Houston-based leader of TeaParty.org, took the same view:

It just allows them to feed the machine. Corporations are not like people. Corporations exist forever, people don’t. Our founding fathers never wanted them; these behemoth organizations that never die, so they can collect an insurmountable amount of profit. It puts the people at a tremendous disadvantage.

Jim Knapp, a Sacramento based Tea Party activist, went even further, telling TPMmuckraker via email: “Most of the anger by Tea Party supporters is directed at the effects of special interest money.”

Knapp continued:

I believe that campaign finance reform is the most important political issue facing America. I would even go so far as to say that this issue is even more important that our current financial crisis and jobs. Everything in American politics is affected by special interest money. From who controls our monetary policies in treasury and the Fed to regulation of Wall Street. I would also venture to say that it was special interest money which precipitated the current economic crisis.

And Everett Wilkinson, the leader of a Florida Tea Party group, told TPMmuckraker that his group had “mixed feelings” about the ruling. One the one hand, Wilkinson said, “getting corporations more involved with politics could be a detrimental thing.” But on the other, Wilkinson said it was a free speech issue.

Even the movement’s leadership, which generally has closer ties to the GOP, isn’t rushing to embrace the ruling. Neither FreedomWorks, the Washington grassroots lobby group that helped organize several Tea Party rallies, nor leaders of the Tea Party Patriots responded to questions from TPMmuckraker about their stance on the court’s decision.

Some of the activists who oppose the ruling had already made clear that they weren’t willing to blindly accept GOP orthodoxy. Brooks recently posted a video on YouTube that warned “We must not allow the Tea Parties … to be hijacked by the GOP.” Smith, who had worked closely with the organizers of the upcoming Tea Party convention before a falling out, echoed that theme in a blog post, lamenting that the movement had been “co-opted by mainstream Republican demagogues determined to use this as their 2010 election platform.” And Knapp has sounded similar alarms.

But their opposition to the court’s ruling on behalf of corporations hints at an ideological split between the movement and the GOP that has long existed under the surface. Tea Partiers — especially the rank-and-file activists, as opposed to the movement leaders — often embrace a more populist, anti-corporate position than does the Republican Party, or the conservative movement that under-girds it. This difference underlies much of the tension we’re increasingly seeing between Tea Partiers and the GOP.

It was Steele, of course, who recently declared himself a Tea Party fellow-traveler. “If I wasn’t doing this job, I’d be out there with the Tea Partiers,” he told Fox News recently.

If that ever happens, the RNC chair might be wise not to bring up the Citizens United case.

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