Unanimous SCOTUS: Unlimited Campaign Spending a Danger

The good news is that a conservative Supreme Court recognized the deleterious effect that unlimited campaign spending is deleterious to the American democracy, and that it did so unanimously. The bad news is that this happened 125 years ago in Ex Parte Yarbrough, the so-called "Ku Klux Klan case" in which the Court upheld a federal statute prohibiting the use of intimidation to stop others from voting. Take a look:

It is as essential to the successful working of this government that the great organisms of its executive and legislative branches should be the free choice of the people as that the original form of it should be so. In absolute governments, where the monarch is the source of all power, it is still held to be important that the exercise of that power shall be free from the influence of extraneous violence and internal corruption.

In a republican government, like ours, where political power is reposed in representatives of the entire body of the people, chosen at short intervals by popular elections, the temptations to control these elections by violence and by corruption is a constant source of danger.

Such has been the history of all republics, and, though ours 667 has been comparatively free from both these evils in the past, no lover of his country can shut his eyes to the fear of future danger from both sources.

If the recurrence of such acts as these prisoners stand convicted of are too common in one quarter of the country, and give omen of danger from lawless violence, the free use of money in elections, arising from the vast growth of recent wealth in other quarters, presents equal cause for anxiety.

If the government of the United States has within its constitutional domain no authority to provide against these evils, if the very source of power may be poisoned by corruption or controlled by violence and outrage, without legal restraint, then, indeed, is the country in danger, and its best powers, its highest purposes, the hopes which it inspires, and the love which enshrines it, are at the mercy of the combinations of those who respect no right but brute force, on the one hand, and unprincipled corruptionists on the other. [emphasis added]

Yes, that's right. That's a conservative Supreme Court of the United States (in the bolded paragraph above) comparing the negative effects of unlimited political expenditures to those of mob violence against those seeking to exercise their right to vote, and scoffing at the notion that the federal government lacks the power to deal with either.

That a government whose essential character is republican, whose executive head and legislative body are both elective, whose most numerous and powerful branch of the legislature is elected by the people directly, has no power by appropriate laws to secure this election from the influence of violence, of corruption, and of fraud, is a proposition so startling as to arrest attention and demand the gravest consideration.

If this government is anything more than a mere aggregation of delegated agents of other States and governments, each of which is superior to the general government, it must have the power to protect the elections on which its existence depends from violence and corruption.

I have a feeling that the current Supreme Court's decision inCitizens United, in which the court is expected by many (as early as tomorrow) to throw out restrictions on unlimited campaign expenditures by corporations, isn't going to sound a whole lot like the opinion quoted from above.

But it's nevertheless worth pointing out that a conservative Supreme Court entirely made up of Republican nominees -- nominees who would show strong preference for corporations in other rulings, striking down wage and labor laws as violative of the freedom to contract and limiting the scope of other laws in areas such as anti-trust -- found unlimited campaign expenditures to be highly worrisome, and what's more found that the federal government does possess the power to combat such "evils."

Colbert Takes on Corporate Campaign Finance Case

With the Supreme Court appearing poised to throw out more than a century of restrictions on corporate spending in federal elections, Stephen Colbert had a few things to say last night:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
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David Bossie's unethical pitch to small donors

Last month I was on the receiving end of a push-poll/fundraising call from Newt Gingrich's organization, American Solutions. Mark Blumenthal of Pollster.com read my post and said it "sounds like a clear cut example of fundraising under the guise of a survey ('FRUGGing')". The Marketing Research Association considers FRUGGing unethical, because

The use of a poll to conduct fund raising has raised the distrust of the public to a point where they refuse to cooperate with researchers trying to obtain the opinions of any number of issues, including political campaign, and government: federal, state and local research. In a country inundated with telemarketing and direct mail fund raising it is more and more difficult for marketing and opinion researchers to get accurate data.

Although I declined to give Newt's group any money, I must look like a sucker for conservative groups peddling fake surveys. On Wednesday, May 20, the phone rang around 8:25 pm and the caller asked for me by name. She worked for Infocision (the same company that made the calls for Gingrich's group), and she asked whether I would participate in a brief survey for David Bossie's group Citizens United.

As I always do when I receive any political call, I grabbed a pen and paper to take notes. More details are after the jump. You be the judge of whether Bossie's group is also FRUGGing.

There's more...

Campaign Cash: The Tea Party Jets to Grassroots Rallies, Wall Street-Style

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Two Tea Party leaders, Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin, have been jet-setting all over the country ginning up support for conservative politicians. Literally.

They’ve been flying around in a private jet like Wall Street CEOs, except they’re heading to “grassroots” rallies instead of merger talks. Meckler and Martin don’t say how outraged, ordinary citizens can find the money to support such extravagance, and they don’t have to. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in this year’s Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, they can now accept unlimited funding without disclosing the identities of their donors.

No one would even know about the jets themselves, but Meckler and Martin never counted on Mother Jones, or a reporter named Stephanie Mencimer. Using public flight-tracking information, the Tea Party Patriots’ flight schedule, and some serious attention to details in the group’s own videos, Mencimer was able to figure out which jet the not-so-populist duo were using. She then traced the plane to Raymond F. Thomson, founder and CEO of a semiconductor company called Semitool, which he sold last year for a cool $364 million.

It’s both sad and hilarious to see the secret financial arrangements of the super-rich masquerading as grassroots activism. But it also shows the lengths to which reporters must go to actually report on political spending in the wake of Citizens United. There is no documentation to follow, just the contrails of private jets.

 

Social groups target state races

And while secret political spending has been dominated by big corporations this cycle, the legal maneuvering that liberated corporate coffers was actually performed by fringe right-wing groups targeting social issues. As Jesse Zwick emphasizes for The Washington Independent:

Groups advocating against abortion and gay marriage have waged a low-grade war on laws restricting their ability to spend money freely in elections since the early 1980s, and their victory in the recent Citizens United ruling has hardly caused them to rest on their laurels.

Our democracy is now more beholden to corporate greed than ever, but at least gays won’t be allowed to visit each other in the hospital.

This is just the beginning of corporate rights

But the implications of Citizens United extend far beyond the (critically important) realm of campaign finance itself, as Jeff Clements and John Bonifaz of the organization Free Speech for People emphasize in an interview with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales of Democracy Now! As Bonifaz notes:

 

Citizens United was not just a campaign finance case, it was a corporate rights case. In fact, it was an extreme extension of a corporate rights doctrine that has eroded the First Amendment for thirty years.

At its core, Citizens United grants First Amendment rights to corporations on the grounds that corporations are people, just like ordinary citizens. Sound crazy? It is.

The bill of rights for corporations?

As AlterNet’s Joshua Holland emphasizes in an interview with historian Thom Hartmann, the implications of the view that corporations are people are simply absurd. Now corporations have been granted First Amendment rights, but what happens when they start arguing for Second Amendment rights? And what would it even mean for a corporation to have Second Amendment rights?

A visual map of Campaign Cash

What are the most common themes and issues surrounding the untold amounts of cash flowing into this election cycle? To create that visual, the Media Consortium piped 10 articles by our members through Wordle. While all the articles were generally focused on this topic, they were picked at random and published between October 25-29.

For clarity’s sake, we made “Tea Party” “TeaParty,” “Supreme Court” became “SupremeCourt,” and we also merged the first and last names of key players such as Karl Rove and Jim DeMint. Finally, we removed any extraneous words such as “the,” “and,” and “even.” We did not combine the words corporate/corporation/corporations or Republican/Republicans (but examine the frequency as much as the size). To get the latest reporting on the funds feeding into the mid-term elections, go to www.themediaconsortium.org or follow the search term #campaigncash on Twitter. Wordle research by Amanda Anderson.

But wait, there’s more!

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the mid-term elections and campaign financing by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit The Media Consortium for more articles on these issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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