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Pierce writes: "The Supreme Court's decision in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission has deformed our politics in a thousand different ways."

(image: fsfreestatenow)
(image: fsfreestatenow)



Beast of Citizens United Slouches Forward

By Charles Pierce, Esquire Magazine

04 July 12

 

orty years ago next March, Richard Nixon sat down in the Oval Office with his White House counsel, John Dean, to talk over a problem he was having with some former employees of his campaign. These employees had been caught the previous June breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee as part of an ongoing program of espionage and sabotage so extensive that Attorney General John Mitchell, not a field of buttercups on his best day, called it "the White House horrors." Now it was nearly a year later. As captured by the White House tapes, the exchange makes it clear that their silence was getting expensive:

PRESIDENT NIXON: How much money do you need?

DEAN: I would say these people are going to cost a million dollars over the next two years. [Short pause.]

PRESIDENT NIXON: We could get that.

DEAN: Mm-hmm.

PRESIDENT NIXON: If you — on the money, if you need the money, I mean, you could get the money fairly easily.

A million dollars. For hush money. To cover up political sabotage.

At the time, the very idea of that conversation, and the amount of money mentioned, horrified the nation. The money itself, secret and laundered through Mexican banks, seemed to be as much an affront to American democracy as the activities that it financed. It sounds so quaint today.

The Supreme Court's decision in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission has deformed our politics in a thousand different ways. Super PACs, entities made possible by the decision, had raised $220 million by the beginning of June, from sources as anonymous as were the ones who raised the money to pay off the burglars. One man, Joe Ricketts, threw $250,000 into a Senate primary in Nebraska at the last minute and bought the nomination for a woman named Deb Fischer. In 2010, when the House of Representatives changed hands, more than a billion dollars was spent on House campaigns, much of it anonymous. Millionaire cranks have been empowered; imagine what politics would have been like if, back in the 1950s, Robert Welch and the John Birch Society could have spent $100 million on campaign commercials instead of buying a few billboards. Earl Warren would have been back cooling his heels in California within a month.

But this is perhaps the most shameful thing of all. Citizens United has made all the crimes that we lumped together and called Watergate — the crimes that Dean and Nixon needed a measly $1 million of untraceable cash to cover up, thereby committing another crime in the process — utterly unnecessary. Why waste your time putting together a covert dirty-tricks operation when you can simply raise $50 million for attack ads that are just as truthless, and far more effective, than forging a letter that makes Ed Muskie lose it on TV? Why bother dreaming up ways to defraud your opponents and confuse their voters when you can lavish money on state legislatures in order to pass voter-identification laws that suppress turnout more effectively than any of Donald Segretti's penny-ante schemes ever did? Why plot in secret when you can bundle up your millions and invent a super PAC with a cool-sounding name to spread it far and wide? Anonymous corporate money is the coin of the realm now. It doesn't have to spend time in a Mexican bank to get itself clean. What Citizens United did was to privatize political corruption at a level so wide and so deep that the corruption is now the system itself. The only anomalous thing in our politics now is the truth.

Mitt Romney may be the perfect candidate for the new era — a person of great wealth himself who also is completely a creature of the world from which this great flood of anonymous money and unaccountable power has come roaring down on a fragile political system. He is in every way the rough beast that Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens predicted in his formidable dissent inevitably would slouch toward Iowa to be born:

[The] conclusion that the societal interest in avoiding corruption and the appearance of corruption does not provide an adequate justification for regulating corporate expenditures on candidate elections relies on an incorrect description of that interest, along with a failure to acknowledge the relevance of established facts and the considered judgments of state and federal legislatures over many decades.... At bottom, the Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.

He is in every way the living embodiment of what President Barack Obama said in his first State of the Union Address when, in what may go down as the finest moment of his presidency, he looked straight into the eyes of the justices who had broken a century's worth of settled law into splinters and thereby had fastened in place everything a rising plutocracy needed to attach itself to the government of the country, and told them, "Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and I'd urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems."

Obama's overmatched now. His super PAC, Priorities USA Action, managed by former Obama aide Bill Burton and old Clinton hand Paul Begala, is struggling to get by, in part because even his tepid attempts to reform the criminality on Wall Street were enough to outrage the gentle souls in our financial-services industries, and he hasn't been able to put the touch on the same people who helped him rather lavishly last time. By May 1, it had raised a little more than $10.5 million, a quarter of the sum raised by Romney's Restore Our Future.

Meanwhile, on the other side, the sheer level of monetized rage being directed at him is positively staggering. The Koch brothers alone have said they are willing to spend $400 million to ensure the president's defeat. A casino mogul named Sheldon Adelson has said he's in for $100 million.

The money renders analysis useless. At the end of May, Romney spent a day hanging around with Donald Trump in Las Vegas. Commentators were baffled. What could Romney possibly gain from his proximity to a sideshow freak like Trump? The point, however, was that it didn't matter. Romney can do anything and he can say anything because there is nothing he can do or say, no mistake he can make, that the money now available to him in politics can't buy him out of. There was a strange, stilted quality to the Republican primary process this year, in no small part because everybody pretended there actually was a process, and not a simple transaction. People pretended that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — and even, God help us, Herman Cain — had a chance when everybody knew that, sooner or later, Mitt Romney's money would get around to burying them all in turn. It was like watching the eye of Sauron descend upon the landscape. It's hard to see how that dynamic doesn't repeat itself this fall. Public corruption has a new name. It is now called "elections."

Right about the same time that Romney was cruising the Strip with the Donald, the long and complicated trial of former vice-presidential candidate John Edwards came to an inconclusive verdict down in North Carolina. Edwards was charged with violating some arcane provisions of the very campaign-finance laws that the Supreme Court had ruled violated the free-speech rights of, say, Exxon-Mobil. Thus had the whole trial been rendered a sad farce. In the context of a Supreme Court — granted political system of anonymous cash and ritualized bribery that would have embarrassed the Borgias, jurors were being asked to determine whether poor old Bunny Mellon had given Edwards $725,000 to help stash away his pregnant mistress as a campaign donation, or simply to help out a friend. Were I on the jury, I'd have voted to acquit, and I'd have mailed the slip of paper on which I'd written my verdict to John Roberts. COD.

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+6 # indian weaver 2012-07-04 15:25
Benjamin Franklin and George Washington would have risen to fight and try to defeat this government in a heartbeat. (Pls read Walter Isaacson's "Biography of Benjamin Franklin" for a reminder of why this country defeated England and created the USA). The government is no longer For The People, By the People... Time to say bye bye to these beasts, the Supreme Court for starters. Hard to believe that these wretched subhumans that so obviously sold out my government are still alive. I think millions are about ready to vote with their AK-47s, every bit as legitimate as a $billion, and more easily obtainable. Seems like a good trade off to me. Let's go shopping, maybe Wal Mart is selling them by now. Oh, did you hear? Ammo sales are about to go under federal regulation and control? Whose side is the NRA on then?
 
 
0 # goddessmother 2012-07-06 21:58
George Washington and Che Guevara were militant revolutionaries . This time, the revolution will be non-violent. The paradigm is shifting away from brute force to People Power.
 
 
+13 # Cdesignpdx 2012-07-04 23:26
When you don't have to pay taxes, you have money to buy the government you've 'earned.' Equity, not equality is the new watchword for the 14-percenters.

"Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States. This is a change for Republicans: the House and Senate doing the work with the president signing bills. His job is to be captain of the team, to sign the legislation that has already been prepared." Grover Norquist

And Mitt isn't outraged that he is being used and purchased? Who in their right (sorry) mind would vote for that kind of leadership quality?
 
 
+4 # cordleycoit 2012-07-05 00:57
Time to rethink and think the impossible it is an interesting test for the Dems, right now they are running in circles and shouting "the sky has fallen!"There are answers.
 
 
+25 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-07-05 02:23
Again, again and again, repeal Citizens United.
There is one way: amend the Constitution to make it clear that the corporations are not people, my friends.
They don't breathe the air they pollute, they don't get jailed when they break the law; they don't get put to death.
They can't die or speak in person.

If corporations are people, how long before they vote?
Or they run for office?
Halliburton for President, anyone?

Visit MoveToAmend.org
 
 
+20 # Ralph Averill 2012-07-05 03:20
There is a tiny glimmer of hope in this old cynic's heart that when the dust settles next November 6th, Barak Obama will still be in the White House, and a new Democratic majority will be heading for Congress. In my 61 years, there has never been a starker difference in political choices, or more to be lost if the US government is handed back to the Republicans.
It's all about Congress in 2012!
 
 
-34 # brucbaker 2012-07-05 04:06
It is laughing on the floor ... puke up your lunch funny that liberals and democrats who BOUGHT the Obama presidency .. are not taking the moral highground that Obama has SPENT both is political warchest cash as well as his political chips. Freaking out now that the Republicans and ROMNEY have as much or more money to spend as we come into the final months before the 2012 elections?

Oh well, that's life.

I am NOT SAYING it is right that either side should BUY an election... but I am watching it all go wrong. Time for some of you to review THE KINKS ... PRESERVATION ACT II... get a clue to how it comes about and goes wrong. After all.... music is just an observation of the stories of LIFE anyway...
 
 
+3 # ericlipps 2012-07-05 14:16
[quote name="brucbaker "]It is laughing on the floor ... puke up your lunch funny that liberals and democrats who BOUGHT the Obama presidency .. are not taking the moral highground that Obama has SPENT both is political warchest cash as well as his political chips. Freaking out now that the Republicans and ROMNEY have as much or more money to spend as we come into the final months before the 2012 elections?/quote]

Come on. Liberals and Democrats "bought" Obama's victory? Republicans had more money to spend in '08 than Democrats did; they just wasted it on a stick-of-wood nominee who picked a freak-show right-winger as his running mate.
 
 
-11 # MidwestTom 2012-07-05 07:25
Fpr all of the complaining about Citizens United by Liberals, so far Obama has a big lead in fund raising over Romney. Both parties are reaping the benefits. I still think that the only fair way to control this is to outlaw all political advertising, but hold many debates that would appear simultaneously on all channels , and them allow each candidate to have a total of two hours of individual airtime.
 
 
+1 # X Dane 2012-07-06 21:21
Thom you are waaaaaaaay of. Romney has raised a LOT more money. And republican super packs has three times more money than the democratic super packs. This is a sickening spectacle. We don't have elections now, we have AUCTIONS.

I agree with you, Candidates should have free time on TV. WE OWN THE AIRWAVES. So we should have the benefit of seeing debates with the people who wants to represent us.

The question is just, HOW do we get that implemented?? Congress loves all that money. It is not FREE money, for they have to DELIVER what their pay masters want. BUT WE PAY THE HIGHEST PRIZE. We don't have a say, any longer. THE MONEY TALKS
 
 
+8 # Vardoz 2012-07-05 08:58
We can't be sheep anymore. We now know that all Democrats will be attacked and their record lied about so we should not be hypnotized and brain washed by the big money montra. Citizens United is a product of a corrupt immoral Supreme Court. There is a reason why big money and interests are pouring tens of millions into propaganda and why they want Obama to lose so badly and its not becasue thet love us so much. It's not because they want to create more jobs, they have already proven they don't want to, it's not because they want to uphold environemtal standards or want our children to go to college or have health care for all. It's so they can stay rich at our expense. Everyone should know big money is waging war on us and Obama and we can not let them win. And if they tell you you can't vote when you get to the voting booth give them a fight! Big money is trying to screw us in every way and Destroy our economy, nation and constitution!
 
 
+5 # mike/ 2012-07-05 09:19
"Jefferson wrote in 1825 to William Branch Giles of 'a vast accession of strength from their younger recruits, who, having nothing in them of the feelings or principles of '76, now look to a single and splendid government of an aristocracy, founded on banking institutions, and monied incorporations under the guise and cloak of their favored branches of manufactures, commerce and navigation, riding and ruling over the plundered ploughman and beggared yeomanry.' " - Thomas Jefferson

in 1825! Jefferson may have foreseen this happening but i doubt to the extent we are dealing with it. i wonder if he realized that men like the Koch's, Adelson's, Romney's, et al would be using lies to do it.
 
 
+10 # Brooklyn Girl 2012-07-05 09:22
Equating money with speech is incomprehensibl e to me. SPEECH IS NOT A COMMODITY AND SHOULD NOT BE BOUGHT AND SOLD. Until we get campaign finance reform, we are toast.

p.s. The ACLU was a supporter of Citizens United. The Koch brothers donated $20 million to the ACLU. Think there's a correlation?
 
 
+14 # Abigail 2012-07-05 09:25
We are looking at the wrong problem- the problem is not how to obtain more and more money for campaigns, but how to eliminate the NEED for money. What the money pays for mainly is TV time and TV ads. England has eliminated this need by banning TV ads during campaigns. We don't need to go that far, we need to limit the amount of time that candidates can buy. One way is to require that all TV channels give all the candidates a set amount of time FREE. If any candidate buys more time, then the selling channel MUST GIVE the same amount of time FREE to all the other candidates. After all, the TV Channels don't own the frequencies they broadcast on, WE,THE PEOPLE, do. The FCC licenses the use of the frequency, with the condition that some of the time is given free for public service. If saving our democracy isn't public service, I don't know what is!

Congress should pass a law requiring the above conditions.
 
 
0 # mdhome 2012-07-05 18:03
The money guys would find a way around a ban on advertising. Better they stand outside the voting booth and hand out money to buy votes, at least some of the poor screwed over schmucks would be able to buy a sandwich.
 
 
+5 # Peace Anonymous 2012-07-05 10:32
We talk about Democrats vs Republicans, Obama vs Romney!! What is at stake here is that your government is for sale. This is your country, your home. This is where you raise your children. You can have anything you want if you can pay for it. There is no moral highground. Where will this end? How much more are the people willing to take?
 
 
+7 # Peace Anonymous 2012-07-05 10:51
Enough!! The more I think about this the crazier it is. Follow the money. We are closing schools and our infrastructure is falling apart but 1 term members of Congress are retiring millionaires from the corpoate financing going on in Washington. Are we all fools? This is not about politics, it is about organized crime and the money being stolen belongs to you, the people. The only question is how much longer are you willing to put up with it?
 
 
0 # mike/ 2012-07-07 10:57
interesting connection to organized crime. i wonder if the RICO laws could be brought into that Wall Street, the banks, et all have done as a means to combat and investigate while the repugs won't let Dodd-Frank and the other laws take effect?
 
 
+2 # grindermonkey 2012-07-05 10:56
Perhaps if we look at what these vast amounts of money purchase, media advertising, propaganda at its most sinister, and encourage everyone to IGNORE IT or better still rip out your cable service, the evil moguls will get the message or modify theirs accordingly.
 

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