Citizens United and the Wisconsin Recall

In yesterday’s WSJ, Stanford’s Michael McConnell explained why progressives should not blame the Supreme Court’s Citizens United for Governor Walker’s victory over the union-backed recall effort. If anything, Citizens United helped those trying to oust the controversial governor, as unions put far more money into the recall election than did corporations. Governor Walker may have outspent his opponents, but the bulk of his money came from individuals, not corporations (and he also benefited from a quirk in Wisconsin law allowing unlimited donations).

For the most part . . . Mr. Walker’s direct, big-ticket support came from sources that have been lawful for decades.

His opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, got his support primarily from labor unions, whose participation was legitimized by Citizens United. Without that decision so demonized by the political left, Mr. Barrett would have been at even more of a financial disadvantage.

Speaking generally, Citizens United is likely to benefit Democrats more than Republicans. Corporations rarely make independent expenditures during candidate elections in their own name, because the ads offend customers, workers and shareholders. And direct corporate contributions to candidates tend to be split more or less evenly between the two parties, largely neutralizing their effect.

But unions have no compunctions against running campaign ads, and almost all of their money goes to Democrats. The Republicans’ advantage, when they have one, comes from rich individual donors—and the right of individuals to make expenditures in support of candidates long predates Citizens United.