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McCutcheon Ruling Requires Americans to Reclaim Democracy

2:57 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Weissman

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission strikes a devastating blow at the very foundation of our democracy.

Caricature of the Koch Brothers Dressed as Clowns

“No regular person can compete with Charles and David Koch.”

This is truly a decision establishing plutocrat rights. The Supreme Court today holds that the purported right of a few hundred superrich individuals to spend outrageously large sums on campaign contributions outweighs the national interest in political equality and a government free of corruption.

In practical terms, the decision means that one individual can write a single check for $5.9 million to be spent by candidates, political parties and political committees.

Even after Citizens United, this case is absolutely stunning. It is sure to go down as one of the worst decisions in the history of American jurisprudence.

Until today, nobody could contribute more than $123,000 total in each two-year election cycle to political candidates and parties.

Citizens United allowed Big Business to spend literally as much as it wants – predominantly in undisclosed contributions filtered through the likes of Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – distorting our elections. But Citizens United money can go only to outside groups.

Now McCutcheon removes meaningful limits on the total amount an individual can directly contribute to candidates, political parties and political committees.

Yes, you and I now have the “right” to spend as much as we want, too.

But no regular person can compete with Charles and David Koch.

There are literally only a few hundred people who can and will take advantage of this horrendous ruling. But those are exactly the people our elected officials will now be answering to.

That is not democracy.

It is plutocracy.

Today’s reckless Supreme Court ruling threatens so many of the things we love about our country.

No matter what five Supreme Court justices say, the First Amendment was never intended to provide a giant megaphone for the wealthiest to use to shout down the rest of us.

Our only hope of overturning this McCutcheon travesty – along with Citizens United – is if millions of Americans band together in saying “Enough!” to plutocracy.

We couldn’t face a starker choice: Accept rule by the few, based on wealth. Or join together to protect and reclaim our democracy – the notion that We, the People decide.

Today, people across the nation will be responding with protests to this outrageous decision. We, the People insist that our government and our country remain of, by and for the people – all the people, not just those few who have amassed billions in wealth.

A vibrant movement for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and reclaim our democracy has emerged since the 2010 issuance of that fateful decision. The demonstrations today – unprecedented as a same-day response to a Supreme Court decision – are just the latest manifestation of how that movement is now exploding across the country.

We refuse to cede control of our country and our government to amoral multinationals and morally comprised plutocrats.

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The Transparently Secretive Chamber of Commerce

3:27 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Weissman

Well, the Big Business guys are transparent about one thing: They can’t stand the idea of the public holding them to account for their attempts to buy elections and influence policy, or even that they be prevented from corrupting the government contracting process through campaign spending.

The latest: They are so terrified even of having their political spending disclosed that they are pushing in Congress legislation that would prohibit the government from requiring contractors to disclose their campaign-related spending.

Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, is carrying their water, with the Orwellian “Keeping Politics Out of Federal Contracting Act,” a bill that recently passed the Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs and may well become law unless citizens move quickly to help stop this abomination.

The Collins initiative is in response to an excellent initiative floated by the Obama administration, but which the White House failed to implement. The simple idea was to require government contractors to disclose their campaign-related spending, including the kind of secret corporate campaign expenditures enabled by the Citizens United decision.

Contractor disclosure is important for two key reasons. First, virtually every major corporation enters into contracts with the government, so if contractors are required to disclose their campaign spending, that would cover most giant businesses. Second, the corrupting pall of campaign-related contributions is worst in the area of government contracting, since this is where the direct payoffs to corporations from political spending are highest. Disclosure will help mitigate the campaign-contractor corruption nexus.

Last year, it leaked that the Obama administration was considering an executive order requiring contractor disclosure.

The response from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s lead lobbyist, Bruce Josten: “We will fight it through all available means. To quote what they say every day on Libya, all options are on the table.” (As I mentioned at the time, just imagine if a prominent figure on the left – one with an office across Lafayette Park from the White House – used such charged, violent rhetoric.)

The Big Business guys have been unwavering in their strident opposition to disclosure of corporate campaign spending.

Said Chamber CEO Tom Donohue last week: “The disclosure thing is all about intimidation.”

The Chamber has certainly been consistent on the point. Here’s what Donohue said after the 2010 elections, in which the Chamber spent more outside money than any other group: “It is important to the Chamber not to change its practices [of not disclosing donors] because when it is known who made a contribution, it gives others the opportunity to demagogue them, attack them, or encourage them not to do it.”

As Carl Forti, one of the co-founders of the Karl Rove-affiliated Crossroads operations, said after the 2010 election, “Disclosure was very important to us, which is why the 527 was created, But some donors didn’t want to be disclosed and, therefore, a (c)4 was created.”

The Big Business worry is simple enough. If their spending is disclosed, consumers and shareholders may hold them accountable. This is what Donohue calls “intimidation.”

Back in the real world, the intimidation works the other way. Under relentless attack from the Chamber of Commerce and other business interests, the Obama administration declined to issue the contractor disclosure executive order – despite a strong public call for such action, and strong support from public interest advocates and Members of Congress.

Although there’s not much chance of the Obama administration issuing the contractor disclosure executive order in advance of the 2012 election, it’s conceivable that a second-term Obama administration would do so.

Which is why we’re confronted with the spectacle of legislation that would prevent the government from trying to reduce the likelihood of corruption through a simple disclosure requirement.

Concerned citizens should act now. If we have any respect for our democracy, we can’t let such a proposal become law.

Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen.

A disadvantaged class? The corporate speech index

3:07 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Weissman

One of the most astounding passages in the Supreme Court’s mind-boggling decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission — the January decision holding that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend as much as they choose from their treasuries to support or oppose candidates for elected office — is this:

"[T]he Government may commit a constitutional wrong when by law it identifies certain preferred speakers. By taking the right to speak from some and giving it to others, the Government deprives the disadvantaged person or class of the right to use speech to strive to establish worth, standing, and respect for the speaker’s voice. The First Amendment protects speech and speaker, and the ideas that flow from each."

This ode to the First Amendment is inspiring, until you recognize that the "disadvantaged class" reference is to corporations.

When it comes to speech protections, there are surely many rational ways to distinguish corporations from real, live persons. One is that corporations are not real, live persons! Another is that for-profit corporations exist for the purpose of making money, and that this monomaniacal focus distinguishes them in very important ways from humans, who care not only about making money, but building community, expressing themselves, fairness, equality, justice, protecting future generations, stewarding the planet and much more. And other consequential difference, compounding these other points of difference, is that large and even not-so-large corporations have a lot more money, and can easily mobilize resources on a scale that vastly outdistances anything that real people can do.

Thus the rather obvious conclusion that corporate money can distort elections and the political process. This is hardly speculative: large corporations dominated the political process even before Citizens United, a fact widely understood. Eighty-five percent of people in the United States believe big business has too much power in Washington.

What may not be quite so obvious is how extraordinary are the resources that corporations can mobilize as against what is now spent on elections.

Consider these juxtapositions:

Total amount spent on federal elections in the 2008 election cycle: $5.285 billion.

Amount spent by Obama campaign in the 2008 election: $730 million.

Average amount raised by incumbent Members of the House of Representatives
in the 2008 election: $1.356 million (challengers: $335,101).

Average amount raised by incumbent Senators in the 2008 election: $8.741
million (challengers: $1,152,146).

Exxon profits 2007-2008: $85 billion.

Top-selling drug, Lipitor, revenues, 2007-2008: $27 billion.

Goldman Sachs bonus and compensation expense for 2009: $16.2 billion.

Value of Lockheed’s defense contracts in 2008: $15 billion.

The amount spent on cigarette advertising and promotion by the five largest cigarette companies in the United States in 2006: $12.49 billion.

Microsoft cash on hand: $33.4 billion.

—-

And these comparisons, from the states:

Amount spent on candidate races in California state elections, 2008: $225
million.

Revenues of the 97th largest corporation in California, Public Storage,
2008: $1.7 billion.

Amount spent on candidate races in Ohio state elections, 2008: $107
million.

Revenues of the 10th largest corporation in Ohio, Progressive Insurance,
2008: $12.8 billion.

Amount spent on candidate races in North Dakota state elections, 2008: $7.3 million.

Revenues of the largest corporation in North Dakota, 2008: $5 billion.

Amount spent on candidate races in Alabama state elections, 2008: $15.5 million.

Revenues of the second largest corporation in Alabama, Vulcan Materials, 2008: $3.6 billion.

Amount spent on candidate races in Nebraska state elections, 2008: $6.4
million.

Revenues of the 10th largest corporation in Nebraska, Public Storage, 2008: $1.9 billion.

Amount spent on candidate races in Rhode Island state elections, 2008: $7.2 million.

Revenues of the third largest corporation in Rhode Island, Hasbro, 2008: $4 billion.

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These comparisons illustrate how easy it will be for one company, one industry, or the corporate class overall, to dominate the electoral discourse in the wake of Citizens United. We won’t know how this plays out, of course, until after it happens. Will Exxon alone decide to spend,
say, $500 million to oppose or support candidates? Perhaps not — but the company might, and it certainly could. The mere fact an Exxon could spend that much, or more, will tilt the political process even more in favor of big business. And it is a virtual certainty that targeted corporate spending will escalate sharply in the wake of decision.

Corporations do not establish their "worth" through political and expressive speech, as the Court suggests, but through a different kind of statement altogether — the financial statement. That fact, combined with their unparalleled treasuries, makes the Court’s decision in Citizens United a real and present danger to democracy. It must be overturned.

Join the call for a constitutional amendment to undo Citizens United and restore the First Amendment and our democracy. Go to: www.DontGetRolled.org.