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Unions United?

Last year, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker became notorious for stripping public workers of their right to collective bargaining. But last week, a federal judge reversed the key provisions of that law.

What makes this ironic is that the judge repeatedly cited the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, saying that Walker’s law violated the free speech rights of the unions. Since the Citizens United decision protected the political speech of organizations such as corporations, the same logic applies to unions, and (according to the judge) “unions engage — indeed one of their core functions is to engage — in speech.”

Meanwhile, another federal court issued a ruling that may remove one of the most troubling aspects of the Citizens United decision — the ability of organizations (including both corporations and unions) to donate money anonymously to political causes. For example, Karl Rove’s non-profit Crossroads GPS, the Koch brothers run non-profits American Energy Alliance and Americans for Prosperity, and the US Chamber of Commerce have spent millions on electioneering communications against Obama and Democratic senators without disclosing any of their donors. The new ruling will require disclosure of contributions to these groups, and many other groups.

The Citizens United decision not only opened the floodgates for soft political money, it allowed donors to hide their identities. This new ruling will allow us to once again “follow the money”.