Watching money pour into politics and overwhelm the electoral system had many progressives hoping the Supreme Court would take up a Montana case that might prompt the high court to re-think their decision in Citizens Untied. Instead, the high court issued a ruling Monday that, the Washington Post reported:
struck down a Montana ban on corporate political money, ruling 5 to 4 that the controversial 2010 Citizens United ruling applies to state and local elections.
The court broke in American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock along the same lines as in the original Citizens United case, when the court ruled that corporate money is speech and thus corporations can spend unlimited amounts on elections.
“The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law,” the majority wrote. “There can be no serious doubt that it does.”
No arguments were heard; it was a summary reversal…..
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer wanted the Montana case heard, arguing that Citizens United should get new scrutiny in the light of its effect on campaign finance.
In his original decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy argued that independent campaign expenditures by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Ginsberg argued that the Montana case was an opportunity to reconsider “in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance.”
But today’s ruling shows that the five justices who supported the original ruling have not budged.
In a dissent, Breyer wrote that “Montana’s experience, like considerable experience elsewhere … casts grave doubt on the Court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so.”
In a piece for this issue of Frontiers, I suggest that such corruption or the appearance thereof is already happening:
America has endured some really crazy national elections. June is the 40th anniversary of the Watergate scandal, for instance, where in 1972 the Committee to Re-Elect the President and former Nixon Attorney General John Mitchell used a secret campaign slush fund to pay some cloak-and-dagger types to bug the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. They got caught, and the “third-rate burglary” and Republican campaign’s “dirty tricks,” combined with what White House counsel John Dean called the “White House horrors” of abuse of power, led to Richard Nixon’s resignation two years later.
That conservative Republican attempt to “buy” the election succeeded, but the eventual loss for the country was staggering. Trust in government was shattered.
There have been other conservative Republican victories that have also resulted in pain for the American electorate. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court handed the 2000 election to George W. Bush in a one-time-only decision—a ruling that diminished the high court in the eyes of many. But the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling has many citizens wondering if the very foundation of democracy is being undermined by the explosion of ‘big bucks’ into politics and the very real possibility that the richest Americans can now buy elections for their chosen candidates and obliterate meritocracy to rule the country as a profit-centric oligarchy.
The Center for Responsive Politics describes the Citizens United decision as “Corporations, unions and issue advocacy organizations may now spend unlimited amounts of money from their treasuries on independent political expenditures in support of or opposition to a candidate.”
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza said (on Andea Mitchell’s MSNBC show) June 21 that prominent conservative GOP issue groups or Super PACs with anonymous donors are collectively expected to spend $1.2 billion on political TV advertising alone. That’s not counting the usual funding stream through former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign and the Republican National Committee, which Politico expects will raise at least $800 million for Romney and congressional candidates.
“The Republican financial plans are unlike anything seen before in American politics. If the GOP groups hit their targets, they likely could outspend their liberal adversaries by at least two-to-one, according to officials involved in the budgeting for outside groups on the right and left,” Politico reports. “By contrast, Priorities USA Action, the super PAC supporting President Barack Obama’s re-election, has struggled to raise money, and now hopes to spend about $100 million.”
Labor could help Democrats with between $200 million to $400 million, but they have their own fights to fund to save workers’ rights in states such as Wisconsin.
Politico’s take-away: “The consequences of the conservative resurgence in fundraising are profound. If it holds, Romney and his allies will likely outraise and outspend Obama this fall, a once-unthinkable proposition.”
Billionaires such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, Wyoming mutual funder Foster Friess, industrialists Charles and David Koch and directors of Super PACS such as Karl Rove (American Crossroads and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies) don’t care about blowback. They want to win, and money is apparently no object.
“People are energized because the future of our country and economy is at stake,” an ally familiar with the Koch effort told Politico. The Koch brothers are expected to kick in about $395 million to Americans for Prosperity, which also takes money from other donors.
Romney’s vision of the economy is apparently deregulated free-market capitalism, with consultants from the George W. Bush administration, despite their running the economy into the ground. Additionally, Romney’s Bain Capitol hedge fund friends hold some of the same ‘principles’ as the ‘big bankers’ whose fiscal recklessness resulted in a federal bailout to avoid another Great Depression because the banks were “too big to fail.” These are people like JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon, who went before Congress to defend America’s largest bank losing $2 billion in trading while perhaps misleading investors.
“We disclosed what we knew when we knew it,” Dimon told the House Financial Services Committee on June 18, Bloomberg News reported.
Such kowtowing to big banks with no accountability is one of the primary complaints of the ‘99% vs. 1%’ Occupy Wall Street movement. (Add from the Guardian, which also has animation: “In fact, the super rich – the top 0.01% of the population – own more of the national wealth now than at any time since 1928, just before the Great Depression. And the richest 1% of the US population? They own a third of US net worth.”)
Some California voters might not be concerned about the influence of big bucks in politics—after all, the one-person-one-vote bedrock of democracy won out when Gray Davis beat millionaires Jane Harmon and Al Checchi for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1998.
But that was then. Now, enough money and clever, dirty-trickster advertising can apparently cause voters to vote against their own self-interest, as happened in the once-famously progressive Wisconsin, when the union-based effort to recall union-busting Gov. Scott Walker failed on June 5. The Washington Post reported, “Walker out-raised his opponent seven to one in a campaign that cost more than $63.5 million, a state record. That foreshadowed the edge that free-spending super PACs could give Republican candidate Mitt Romney in November.”
GOP Super PACs are also expected to spend big bucks in other presidential battleground states—Florida, Ohio, Virginia, New Mexico and Nevada, as well as congressional races in an attempt to deliver the Republicans the presidency and majorities in the House and Senate. Republicans need four seats to get a majority in the Senate.
The Victory Fund reports that conservative GOP Super PAC money is already targeting openly gay Rep. Tammy Baldwin in her Senate campaign even before the Aug. 14 GOP primary that will determine her opponent.
“Corporate special interest money is starting to pour into politics, and in the U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin right now, it’s raining down on Tammy Baldwin,” Victory Fund President and CEO Chuck Wolfe wrote in a June 20 email. “This week a right-wing group largely funded by the ultra-conservative Koch brothers dropped $400,000 on television ads to distort Tammy’s record. They know the four major candidates competing in the GOP primary can’t afford to go on TV to attack Tammy themselves, so this is their gift to them. … Tammy is relying on people like us to have her back, especially when deep-pocketed corporate interests are fighting for the other guys.”
Those four ‘other guys’ make this one of the nation’s hottest Senate races for November, with Tommy Thompson, former governor and Secretary of Health and Human Services under George W. Bush, having the greatest name recognition. However, he’s too ‘progressive’ for the Tea Party.
At Netroots Nation, Baldwin told Frontiers that the GOP candidates are ripping each other up before the primary, which will leave a divided Republican electorate. But they still have big money, so she is relying on her grassroots supporters, bloggers and others to help her win. The most recent poll from Marquette Law School has Baldwin eight points behind Thompson, 49 percent to 41 percent, among likely voters. She’s tied with one other candidate, and polls put her several points above the two others. Significantly, 25 percent of likely GOP voters said they were undecided or didn’t know whom they would support in the primary.
The same poll found a drop for Obama in the presidential race. In the Marquette Law School Poll conducted late last May, Obama led Romney 51 percent to 43 percent. In the poll released June 20, Obama had 49 percent support compared to 43 percent for Romney.
The other, less publicized use of big bucks to buy an election is the concerted effort at voter suppression—targeting black and Latino voters. LGBT activists have joined in an effort organized by the NAACP to counter the campaigns in several states not only as “the right thing to do” but to help protect the rights of prospective LGBT voters of color who might feel intimidated or fear being outed if they make a fuss.
But such voter fraud is not just limited to voter suppression or happening in the South or areas with heavy Latino populations. Voter registration drives have been impacted, too. According to the Sacramento Bee, for instance, there is concern about voter fraud in the Sacramento area. The Bee reports that the Sacramento County Republican Party filed “potentially fraudulent registration cards”—with evidence provided by Jill LaVine, Sacramento County’s registrar of voters—in an effort to give Republican Rep. Dan Lungren an edge in his hotly contested re-election race in the 7th Congressional District.
“The overall registration effort made by the party was very successful. I am unaware of any single registration that was paid for by that program that had any problems,” the Bee reported Lungren as saying, adding that it is possible that the voters filling out the forms made mistakes.
The Daily Kos reports that the possibly fraudulent voter registration drive was “led by one Monica Harris, a Republican operative who, it turned out, had a serious criminal record that included embezzlement, theft and prison time.”
At one time, Lungren was a friend to the Log Cabin Republicans. But he now has a “0 percent” rating on civil rights by the Human Rights Campaign, and is on the progressive group CREDO SuperPAC’s “Top 10 Tea Party” list. CREDO SuperPAC is running a grassroots campaign to “Take Down Dan Lungren” (they’re on Facebook) and collected pledges from 562 people at Sacramento Pride to help. On June 30, they’ll be launching an ‘LGBT Against Lungren Committee’ in Carmichael.
But CREDO SuperPAC is no match for the big bucks Super PACs—at least when it comes to funneling money into elections. Progressives, Democrats and moderate/conservative Republicans who are fighting to take back the GOP from the Tea Party wingnuts and the big-bucks-oligarchy-in-waiting are counting on the grassroots—on regular voters—to turn out and prove that democracy still depends on one person, one vote.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF:
Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) issued the following statement after the Supreme Court issued a summary reversal of the Montana Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a state law that prohibited corporate spending in state elections, similar to the Court’s Citizens United decision:
“The Supreme Court’s decision today in American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock today – overturning Montana’s corporate election spending limits – is another grave disappointment. The Supreme Court had the opportunity, as some Justices urged, to revisit its disastrous decision in Citizens United in light of the torrent of vast corporate and independent expenditures that have been unleashed since that decision.
“Instead, the Court doubled down on its flawed decision. Regrettably, this makes a Constitutional Amendment – such as the one I introduced last week – all the more necessary. The tremendous amount of unregulated and often anonymous spending now flooding our elections is the most significant threat to the health of our democracy in decades.”
Schiff’s amendment, drafted by Constitutional Scholar Laurence H. Tribe, provides simply: “Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to forbid Congress or the states from imposing content-neutral limitations on private campaign contributions or independent political campaign expenditures. Nor shall this Constitution prevent Congress or the states from enacting systems of public campaign financing, including those designed to restrict the influence of private wealth by offsetting campaign spending or independent expenditures with increased public funding.”