Lawyer Who Argued For Citizens United Admits Elections Are Bought

July 11, 2012
Roman Collins and Jessica Kelton

Billionaire Matty Moroun has come out swinging with astounding sums of money in response to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signing a deal to build a new bridge spanning from Detroit to Canada, and even the staunchest supporters of corporate speech are admitting Mr. Moroun may be buying an election.

Moroun owns the Ambassador Bridge, the only bridge connecting Detroit to Canada. In order to maintain that monopoly, the billionaire’s Detroit International Bridge Company is helping to finance The People Should Decide, a committee attempting to undo the “interlocal agreement” between the governor and Canadian officials by amending the Michigan Constitution. The amendment would require the public to vote on the bridge before construction begins. So far, the group has paid to gather 420,000 signatures, far more than the required 322,609 needed to put the proposal on the ballot this November. The company has also spent $3.4 million on TV ads to affect public opinion about the new bridge proposal and further hinder its construction.

Richard McLellan, a founder of the right-leaning Mackinac Center, who has advocated for power consolidating laws such as the emergency manager bill, does not think that the referendum will affect the bridge agreement. Mr. McLellan reportedly was the one to provide pivotal legal advice to Gov. Snyder allowing him to outmaneuver legislators to secure the agreement with Canada.

"If you enter into an agreement with a foreign power under the law in effect at the time, you can't just get out of it because Matty Moroun was able to buy an election," stated McLellan, acknowledging the steeply disproportionate impact large donors can have on elections.

Ironically, Mr. McLellan has a past history of defending corporations against campaign finance laws that limit their political power. He lost in 1990 when the Supreme Court decided in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce that corporate money can unfairly influence elections and upheld the Michigan Campaign Finance Reform Act. The act prohibited corporations from using treasury money to support or oppose candidates in elections, but it still allowed corporations to make contributions from a segregated fund.

McLellan later filed an amicus brief in favor of corporate speech when the issue of campaign finance was relitigated again in 2010 in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The Court’s decision overturned the Michigan Campaign Finance Reform Act and allowed corporations to use treasury money to support or oppose political campaigns – both candidates and ballot measures.

In other words, Mr. Moroun’s company can directly invest its money in the upcoming election to protect his monopoly and paralyze officials from beginning the new bridge construction, and he is diametrically opposed to another big money special interest – business owners looking to profit off increased traffic resulting from the proposed bridge.

Mr. McLellan presumably agrees with the controversial Citizens United decision that “Independent [corporate] expenditures…do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” But it does, however, appear that McLellan has a bias to see corruption when it hampers something he supports. It will be interesting to see if Mr. McLellan reaches to corporate coffers to battle apparent corruption with more apparent corruption.

This article was picked up by ElectaBlog.