Friday, April 18, 2014

Political Cynicism and Resignation: the Other Enemy from Citizens United

How are things different now in the Post-Citizens United world as far as how our government responds in contrast to the time of the first Earth Day? More and more people will be discouraged from participating in a rigged democracy, from informing themselves on politics and from showing up on election day as a result. 

Here is the prophetic dissent of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens to the Citizens United Ruling. He predicted that the 5-4 ruling would lead to fewer and fewer people even making the effort to vote. Here are his words from the bench:
"When citizens turn on their televisions and radios before an election and hear only corporate electioneering, they may lose faith in their capacity, as citizens, to influence public policy. A Government captured by corporate interests, they may come to believe, will be neither responsive to their needs nor willing to give their views a fair hearing. The predictable result is cynicism and disenchantment: an increased perception that large spenders call the tune and a reduced willingness of voters to take part in democratic governance."
In a testament to public alienation, eighty-five percent of those polled in a study believe that members of Congress are more interested in serving special interests than the people they represent.

A politically disengaged populace makes it easier for the government to be captured by these predatory corporate vultures where no one else outside of their interests gets to have a fair say.

A captured, unresponsive, gridlocked government is a breeding ground for further cynicism and disenchantment among citizens, voters and their participation. 

Justice Stevens added that unlimited corporate donations gives a power tool that the plutocrats could also scare elected politicians to keep in line with the sheep herd. 
"To the extent that corporations are allowed to exert undue influence in electoral races, the speech of the eventual winners of those races may also be chilled. Politicians who fear that a certain corporation can make or break their reelection chances may be cowed into silence about that corporation."

Most people still technically get a vote and the plutocrat's favored candidate is not guaranteed a win. However big money has an outsized say in the agenda should be even if the plutocrats favored candidate does not win.

A Basic Refute of Corporate Personhood

James Bopp Jr. was the attorney who worked as a legal adviser on Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. He invoked the same perverted twist on “free speech” as McCutcheon did but with a corporate personhood flavor:

"The Supreme Court has ruled that corporate political speech is protected by the First Amendment, and you cannot ban political speech just because the speaker is a corporation," said Bopp.

It is important to break down the meaning of this haunting quote. One fallacious equivalency is to put a faceless corporate multinational business entity (legally programmed as robots produce profits at all costs) on the same playing field as a flesh-and-blood human being. The second fallacious equivalency is to call money speech of which a logical consequence is the more money someone has the more speech that person has a right to. When these two fallacious equivalencies become married their child is the dangerously wrongheaded Frankenstein monster that the Citizens United Ruling set the spark of life to.
Given what James Bopp said, don’t we the people have the right and ability to pool resources together to advocate for views?

Yes that is legitimate free speech but corporate money is not the same as the people’s money pooled together. Government gives corporations special advantages to make them effective in the economic sphere, not the status of “disadvantaged persons” entitled to a “voice” for the political sphere.

Corporations have only privileges under the law not individual rights.

McCutcheon Tarnishing the Name of Free Speech

Whatever rationalizations 5 Supreme Court justices had to rule in favor of Citizens United and McHutcheon, let's get to the heart of the matter and cut away this fluff about free speech.
Citizens United and McHutcheon are about exertion of naked corporate power while free speech is just a flimsy mask to cover up the ugly face of corruption.

These 5 out-of-touch Supreme Court justices that ruled the aggregate $123,000 campaign donation limits as unconstitutional under the First Amendment are wrong on logic, law and history. It was not McCutcheon's constitutional right that was being violated. Money is nowhere in the first Amendment. It is an illegitimate court- created doctrine. 

Yet predictably so, first Amendment freedom of speech is the cover that Shawn McCutcheon used in his published op-ed titled: DonationCaps Hurt Democracy

Since the earliest days of our republic we have been able to express that freedom by contributing money to the political candidates of our choosing... Getting rid of aggregate limits is not about corrupting democracy — it is about practicing democracy and being free.”

Supreme Court chief justice John Roberts echoed this “see no evil” denial of corruption by quoting the Citizen's United ruling, claiming "ingratiation and access … are not corruption".  Basically the only thing that qualifies as corruption under Robert’s overly narrow and disingenuous definition of “quid pro quo corruption” is the image of a late 19th century-style robber baron directly placing a sack of bribe money on the desk of one of their compliant congresspersons.

Where is there not corruption? McCutcheon slammed his foot on the accelerator as far as speeding up this vicious cycle of corruption where the corporate elite buy politicians that will give them bailouts, subsidies, tax breaks and deregulation. Making the already rich even richer under these eviscerated election spending laws will empower and enable them to buy even more politicians in the next election eventually locking in a long term bi-partisan corporatist majority. This vicious cycle of corruption is basically the inverse mirror image version of the Republican’s recurring nightmare vision of the poor and minorities voting in mass to secure themselves endless welfare benefits and locking in a permanent Democratic majority.
Futhermore how can this be “speech” if the plutocrat billionaires celebrate secrecy and want to hide the identity of which donor is bankrolling which campaign ad (an issue that the filibustered DISCLOSE act would have addressed)?
These rulings made in the flowery and friendly name of free speech would not be so dangerous and corrupting if the distribution of wealth and income in this nation weren’t already so grotesquely skewed into the hands of so few. The richest four hundred Americans now have more wealth than the poorest 150 million Americans put together. That is why in 2010 the 0.01% of richest Americans accounted for one fourth of all the money given to politicians, parties and political action committees.

Shaun McCutcheon himself has made an irritating display of inverted patriotism, revisionist freedom and feigned allegiance to founding principles by making donations of the symbolically significant $1,776 to 15 different candidates.

However, the Shaun McCutcheon definition of freedom applies to only about 600 people in the whole entire nation. Only 591 donors in the entire country gave the maximum allowance of $46,200 to federal candidates in 2012, according to data from Center for Responsive Politics. So few people have both the desire and the ability to do such a feat that this is a freedom not worth defending.

But according to the Robert's Court, the purported constitutional right of a few hundred super-rich plutocrats to spend virtually unlimited sums on campaign contributions is more important than congress’s right to regulate campaign spending.

Public financing of campaigns would cause the conspirators for a permanent corporatist political majority to squeal like a tortured pig in resistance. But the legislators themselves might actually like robust campaign finance reform. It would give them the freedom to be authentic and to actually do their job instead of spending every possible remaining moment of their week dialing for dollars. If only candidates were not on such a constant uphill treadmill have to raise so many millions for media buys, the 0.1% would not have such a hammerlock control over our political process.

Giving private money free reign to interfere with our public decision making is an endorsement of highly concentrated power. The dispersion and accountability of power is the key to a thriving democracy. That is why we need respect people's ability to run for office without being tethered to corporate money and for politicians who are already in office to not have to be dependent upon the corporate elite to give them the cash they need to run in the first place. Isn’t it only fair for broadcasters provide free air time to candidates in exchange for use of our airwaves? Or is that an arrangement which is forbidden because would foil the evil plot of the oligarchs?

The Partisanship Theory on Citizens United, McCutcheon etc.

Notice the pattern of these 5-4 Supreme Court decisions for Citizens United, against the voting rights act, and for McCutcheon. We could also include the Bush v Gore and Texas redistricting and Indiana voter ID law cases as part of the pattern. It is quite easy to come to the conclusion that every decision these 5 Republican-appointed Justices have made regarding elections and voting are nothing more blatant moves to help get more Republicans elected.

Though rank and file Republicans might not agree with Citizens United and McCutcheon, the acts of GOP party insiders and elected officials strengthen this theory that the 5 Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices only ruled this way for partisan reasons rather than any other principles.

For example take Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who has deep pockets for big corporate donations but faces abysmal approval numbers and a tough re-election this year. He testified in front of the Supreme Court and actively encouraged the justices to intervene in favor of McCutcheon's big-money politics. McConnell is also the one who led the challenge of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms all the way to the Supreme Court. As Senate minority leader, he has blocked crucial judicial nominees and FEC commissioners who support campaign finance restrictions.

In another example, the finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ray Washburne, told the New York Times  "Eureka" when heard the news that the Supreme Court eviscerated the aggregate limits. At the time he was traveling to Chicago to solicit money from two big funders who had reached their aggregate donation limit for this election cycle. And then just six mere after the McCutcheon ruling, the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee launched a joint fundraising committee.

One caveat is that these Supreme rulings do not guarantee the GOP election victories. But these rulings certainly tilt the playing field in favor of candidates who are short on ethics, morals and new ideas that are popular with voters but long on access to brute cash to fund attack ads from which they could hide behind. Meanwhile progressive candidates who are long on ethics, morals and new ideas that are popular with voters but can't get multiple billionaires to cut fat checks for them are put at an unfair disadvantage in the competition.

It is easy to accuse these Republican-appointed justices of doing nothing more than greasing the skids for an oligarchic dystopia where their a handful of favored billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson get to call the shots of our political process.
It seems like low hanging fruit to make partisan hay out of the Republican Party establishment's allegiance to McCutcheon and such an unpopular issue as opening the floodgates to even more money in politics.
We could easily tar state-level elected Republicans who vote as a block against (Move to Amend sponsored) anti-Citizens United constitutional amendments, as sycophants for the billionaire elite who have too little appeal to raise their money the grassroots way. We could easily impugn them as unprincipled opportunists who throw all populist sense out the window to maintain a national campaign rule arrangement that will help more of their kind get elected.
But it is dangerous to turn Citizens United/ McCutcheon into just another Republican vs. Democrat partisan polarized stalemate like we so tragically see with the issue of global warming. A much better outcome is to use this as wedge issue to divide much of the the Republican rank and file from their party insiders and officials.

In the 2012 election grassroots ballot initiatives to overturn Citizens United won amazingly consistent support from all across an otherwise polarized political spectrum. Anti-Citizens United initiatives just as much voter approval in the “purple” swing state of Colorado (72% for Amendment 65 demanding that Congress draft a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United) and the libertarian “red” state of Montana (76% for Initiative 166 declaring that corporations do not have constitutional rights) as deeply “blue” Democratic Chicago (74% for approving a local initiative demanding that Congress propose an amendment reversing Citizens United).

About ¾ of Americans whether Democrat, Republican, or Independent oppose the Citizens United ruling and don’t agree that for-profit corporations should have the right to flood political campaigns with tidal waves of cash. 
What polling numbers above 75% for the constitutional Amendment means is that we could get the center-right to join in alliance with the progressives and isolate the far right and the corporate personhood apologists to the fringes.
Could it be done?

The elected powers that be could neuter such a big-tent political alliance simply by denying us opportunities to hold votes or ballot initiatives on the issue unless there is such a strong bipartisan movement that it is clear they will be voted out for blocking moves to amend.  

The Supreme Court's consistent 5-4 absurdity with voting and elections

      There have been gradual series of previous judicial challenges to campaign finance rules (such as Buckley vs. Valejo in 1976) that equate monetary contributions with 1st amendment free speech rights that corporations somehow have. These culminated in the corporate personhood supernova with the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. FEC ruling in January 2010. The Supreme Court ruled that corporations (even if they are foreign owned) and the wealthy individuals behind them are at liberty to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence U.S. elections. The only firewall remaining is that they have to spend it independently of the candidate or party’s official campaign. In other words, the remaining limits are not very meaningfulThe Citizens United v. FEC decision brought Super PACs roaming through our political landscape in a way the resembles the Lord of Darkness scene in Fantasia. According to the Billion Dollar Democracy report by Demos “More than 93 percent of the money Super PACs raised came in contributions of at least $10,000—from just 3,318 donors, or the equivalent of 0.0011 percent of the US population.”
Thanks to Alabama Coal Baron and profligate Republican Donor Shawn McCutcheon winning a rigged game at the Supreme Court with their ruling announced on April 2nd 2014, the entitled plutocrats have less of a need to go through political action committees or falsely defined "social welfare" organizations (such as Karl Rove's Crossroads organization) to place their political bets.
While the cap on donations to a single candidate still stands, what McCutcheon got recently the Supreme Court to rule as unconstitutional was the $123,200 aggregate limit for what any individual donor could give to candidates, parties or PAC's in a two-year election cycle. The aggregate limits are now an estimated $3.6m in an election cycle for a plutocrat who theoretically wanted buy up the whole Congress.
Here is what it absurd about the whole ordeal. While the 5 activist justices argued that legal precedent did not apply in their Citizens United ruling, they now used the “non-precedent” Citizens United ruling as a legal precedent for their McHutcheon ruling.

Here is what is even more outrageous about the whole spectacle. These same 5 Justices who made it easier for billionaires to buy elections were the same ones who made it more difficult for actual flesh and blood people to cast a vote in one through their similarly 5 - 4 Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013 which ripped out the heart of the voting rights act. So according to the Roberts court the First Amendment’s phony “permitting” of wealthy donors and powerful corporations to buy an election commands more respect than the Fifteenth Amendment’s genuine granting of our right to cast a vote free of racial discrimination.

Since the Shelby County decision, at least seven states currently under GOP gubernatorial and legislative control which were previously covered under Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act have passed or implemented new voter restriction laws (Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia, South Carolina, and North Carolina) passive aggressive ways to make it more cumbersome for to the less privileged to vote.