Your Wonky Week – Feb. 27, 2020

This week in wonky news!

We’re complete policy wonks, and we own that.

We talk about politics and polls and studies and data all the time. And we have a hunch that you’re keen on knowing what’s going on “in the weeds” too. So here’s “Something Interesting To Read,” a totally wonky bit we’re calling “Your In The Weeds Moment,” and because friends don’t let friends watch Fox News, we do it for you – and report our findings in “What’s Up on Fox News.”

Something Interesting to Read:

Here’s a super interesting Pew Center poll showing that for the first time ever, environmental protection rivals the economy on Americans’ list of policy priorities. Nearly as many Americans believe protecting the environment should be a top policy priority (64%) as those who say strengthening the economy should be a top policy priority (67%). 

You won’t be surprised to learn that the partisan divide on that issue is pretty wide and deep; while 85% of Democrats believe protecting the environment should be a top priority, just 39% of Republicans agree – a 46 point difference. (But there’s hope! The number of Republicans who believe protecting the environment should be a top policy priority has jumped 8 points in one year!)

And here’s an even more interesting bit: while 64% of Americans believe protecting the environment should be a top policy priority, only 52% say that “climate change” should be a top policy priority. The partisan divide on that issue is even greater than the divide for environmental protection generally. Seventy-eight percent of Democrats believe climate change should be a top policy priority; just 21% of Republicans agree – for a whopping 57 point difference. 

But, again, there’s hope: the number of people believing climate change deserves to be a top policy priority has gone up 14 points in just three years. 

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Yeah, makes sense because the world is literally on fire,” you’ve got a good point.

But it’s still a move in the right direction. 

Check it out here:

Your “Completely In the Weeds Moment”:

Okay, folks. Let’s chat about Citizens United for a sec.

We hear a lot about the evils of Citizens United and the flood of funding that it caused.

It is good to be concerned about the impact of large concentrations of wealth (corporate and individual) on our electoral system. But we hate to tell you – the problem runs a lot deeper, and has been around a lot longer, than Citizens United.

The problem of big money (including corporate money) in politics did not start with Citizens United ten years ago. It is actually an almost 45 year old problem (!!) that began in 1976 with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Buckley v. Valeo.

Buckley v. Valeo – which upended campaign finance – was at the time considered so uncontroversial by the Court that it was made via an unsigned opinion with only a single partial dissent. But that one opinion invalidated almost all of the restrictions on campaign-related expenditures that Congress had put into place in 1974.  In fact, the only aspects of the 1974 law that Buckley left in place were the limits on donations to political committees Congress had enacted.

Buckley struck down:

  • A cap on campaign expenditures, which opened the door to unlimited fundraising and the fiscal arms race that is now such a part of our elections.
  • A $1,000 cap on “independent expenditures” by anyone other than a candidate for office or a federally registered PAC (subject to contribution limits) seeking to influence the outcome of an election, which is why spending by “outside groups” now dwarfs spending by actual candidates in almost every meaningfully contested election we have.
  • A limit on what a candidate could spend on their own campaign, which is why millionaires and billionaires can now spend as much as they like trying to get elected.

It was Buckley, not Citizens United, that allowed corporations, trade associations, unions and wealthy individuals to make unlimited, often undisclosed, and certainly unregulated expenditures designed to influence elections.

The only difference between life under Buckley and Citizens United is that from 1976 to 2010, independent expenditures by non-PACs had to avoid using eight specific phrases: “vote for,” “elect,” “support”, “cast your ballot for”, “Smith for Congress”, “vote against”, “defeat”, “reject”, or any variations thereof.  Billions of dollars in so-called “issue ads” were deployed during those 35 years.

Citizens United simply struck the limitation on the use of those eight “magic words.”  It changed the content of the ads, not their existence.

The day before Citizens United a corporation could spend an unlimited amount of money designed to influence an election. 

The day after Citizens United, a corporation could spend an unlimited amount of money designed to influence an election, but now it could use 8 additional words.

Buckley, not Citizens United, allowed for self-funded campaigns that enable millionaires and billionaires to spend unlimited sums on their own behalf.  Donald Trump would not have won the GOP primary if he had not loaned (eventually converted to donations) tens of millions of dollars to his own campaign.

While it is true that Citizens United gave rise to Superpacs, it is just as true that Superpacs are merely a slightly different legal structure for existing behavior.  Before Superpacs there were 527s (created by an amendment to the tax code in 1975). Same behavior, different legal structure.

All of this is a long way of saying that while Citizens United gets all the blame, it is really Buckley v. Valeo that we need to overturn if we are going to get big money out of our political system.

So there you have it.

Now the next time someone starts spouting off about Citizens United, you can respond with “Well, actually, Buckley….”

What’s up on Fox News

Friends don’t let friends watch Fox, so we take one for the team and do a little channel surfing for you. Honestly, it’s not easy.

Fox itself is tough to handle, but Sean Hannity is in a league of his own. Fear is his dish d’jour, in whatever flavor the viewers want.

On Tuesday night, he spent most of his opening talking about “Bolshevik Bernie” and “Comrade Bernie” and his “radical brand of soviet-style socialism.” According to Hannity, Bernie’s “soviet-style socialism” has one purpose: “total government control and takeover of every aspect of our lives.”

How does one “take over” American lives? With free stuff! Hannity explains that socialist “hellholes” begin with promises of giving everyone everything for free …. while nationalizing industry. Ergo, the Green New Deal and Medicare for All are really just covert operations for “Bolshevik Bernie” to “literally plan[] a government takeover of two of America’s largest industries.” 

Not scared enough yet? Well maybe increased taxes will fan the flames. Hannity turns to multiple graphics explaining how much taxes will increase under a Bernie administration. Then he gratuitously lists all of the GOP’s hot-button issues (Green New Deal, Medicare for All, late-term abortions, open borders, free healthcare for “illegal immigrants,”) before concluding that ALL Democrats are radical socialists who want to take over your life.

We see the same framing on and the Fox News website. It goes something like: 

Free stuff for everyone else => higher taxes for you => “socialist takeover” => total control over your life forever and ever (mwah-ha-ha-ha!)

Is it all a bit crazy? You bet. But it’s important to know what red meat is being fed to folks on the “nightly news” … so that when someone says they don’t support the Green New Deal because they don’t want the government controlling their life you know where it comes from.

So, folks. We’re going to have our work cut out for us in 2020. And it’s going to be all hands on deck to beat Trump. That’s why we’re so focused on our Dump Trump project, which benefits the 2020 Democratic nominee for President.

It’s a simple, low-dollar monthly program that makes it easy for you to support the nominee – whomever that person is. It’s less than a cup of coffee and it’s a way to help – even if you live in the bluest of blue states.

Because no matter what – we have to Dump Trump in 2020. And it’s going to take all of us – including you – to make it happen.

Join us today at!

Stay wonky!
Jonathan Zucker & Michele Hornish