Mitt Romney in an interview with Brian Williams of NBC News on September 25, 2012:
“We have a very unusual system in this country. It’s not just related to teachers unions. It relates more broadly. But people are able to give — in the case of the Democratic Party, I don’t mean to be terribly partisan, but I kind of am — in case of the Democratic Party, the largest contributors to the Democratic Party are the teachers unions, the federal teachers unions.
And so, if they can elect someone, then that person is supposed to be representing the public vis-a-vis the teachers union, but actually most of the money came from the teachers union. It’s an extraordinary conflict of interest. That’s something I think is a problem and should be addressed.”
In a television interview with NBC News, Mitt Romney said it is “an extraordinary conflict of interest” and a “problem” that “should be addressed”, that teachers unions specifically, and public sector unions more generally, negotiate contracts with government officials that they may have provided campaign contributions for.
One could indeed argue that there is a conflict of interest. But why limit this to public sector unions? There is also a conflict of interest when aerospace giants like Boeing and Lockheed provide campaign contributions and then negotiate contracts worth tens of billions of dollars a year with the public officials they helped elect. The same is true of the oil and gas companies, who negotiate oil and gas leases on federal land, and indeed almost any corporate interest one can imagine, as all negotiate contracts or regulations or tax treatment with government officials. Yet Romney does not appear to recognize that this represents conflicts of interest as well.
The same is true of the multi-million dollar campaign contributions being made to the Republican campaign from billionaires such as Sheldon Adelson, the Koch Brothers, and others. Sheldon Adelson, a casino mogul, is worth over $20 billion, has contributed already over $70 million to Republican campaigns in this electoral cycle and has said he would contribute up to $100 million (or “whatever it takes”) before it is over. Yet he would stand to gain far more if Romney is elected and gets his tax proposals passed. An analysis published by the Center for American Progress Action Fund estimates that Adelson would see his tax bill cut by over $2 billion in the near term (mostly from Romney’s pledge to exempt from US taxation any corporate profits earned overseas), with a further reduction of almost $9 billion later due to repeal of the estate tax, which his heirs will benefit from.
All large corporate entities and the super-wealthy will have a conflict of interest when they provide significant campaign contributions to political candidates. If they win, the politicians will later decide on policies that affect their campaign contributors. The only way to avoid this will be to limit campaign contributions to registered voters, with a modest ceiling on the maximum they can give.
Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court, with its current Republican majority, has ruled that it is unconstitutional to limit the right of corporate entities (as well as unions and individuals) to contribute whatever they wish to political campaigns. Yet it is not clear why corporations are treated the same as individuals. Individuals can vote, while corporations can not (at least not yet). Corporations are never mentioned in the US Constitution, and are legal constructs providing limited liability and other benefits that are important for the organization of economic production.
Why such a legal construct should have the same right as individuals to influence elections through their campaign contributions is not clear. If Mitt Romney is in fact opposed to campaign contributions from entities with a “conflict of interest”, he would be opposed to such corporate contributions as well. But of course he is not.