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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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We Still Need Medicare-for-All

4:10 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Weissman

It will take some time to digest the Supreme Court’s decision today, but it appears to have averted some terrible jurisprudence that might have very seriously restricted the government’s overall ability to regulate the economy and protect citizens.

In upholding most of the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court lets stand legislation that offers some important benefits, but only to a portion of those who are uninsured, and will predictably fail to solve our nation’s health care crisis.

However the health reform law ultimately plays out, we know two things for certain: Tens of millions of Americans will remain uncovered as will tens of millions of under-insured who will remain at risk of financial ruin if a major illness strikes and it will leave the private health insurance and pharmaceutical industries in charge of prices and life-and-death treatment decisions.

There is a single solution to the challenges of providing coverage to the 50 million who are uninsured that would curb out-of-control health care costs and provide a humane standard of care to all who enter the medical system. That solution is an improved Medicare-for-All, single-payer system.

The improved Medicare-for-All approach starts with the premise that health care is a critically-needed right that must be afforded to all, irrespective of any individual’s ability to pay for care. It solves the problems of 50 million uninsured Americans simply and directly by establishing that everyone is covered by the improved Medicare-for-All system. Everybody in, nobody out.

Improved Medicare-for-All would prevent the deaths of the 45,000 Americans who die every year from lack of health insurance. It would eliminate the hundreds of thousands of medical bankruptcies – affecting millions of Americans every year – that occur because people can’t pay their medical bills. These deaths and economic tragedies are entirely preventable; a system that permits them to continue is morally repugnant and must be replaced.

The improved Medicare-for-All approach would eliminate the greatest waste in the health care system: the needless costs imposed by the private health insurers. These firms impose hundreds of billions of dollars of excess cost on us via their excessive profit-taking and executive compensation, their marketing expense, their vast bureaucracies devoted to denying care and their imposition of massive paper-pushing obligations on actual health care providers.

It is not for lack of policy justification or moral force that Americans continue to suffer from a malfunctioning health care system. Our failure to have adopted an improved Medicare-for-All system is due entirely to the political power of the health insurance industry.

That political power can be overcome, however, by a grassroots movement that musters enough of its own power. The country cannot continue to survive the continued reign of the private health insurance industry, and it will not.

Public Citizen is going to continue and step up its advocacy for a single-payer, Medicare-for-All system.

Winning a single payer, Medicare-for-All system will not be easy. In the near term, the single payer movement will need to devote substantial energy to holding off efforts to further privatize and weaken existing Medicare. The early steps forward in winning expanded and improved Medicare-for-All will likely come from state initiatives, where success will depend on local movements plus assurances that states pursuing improved Medicare-for-All can obtain needed waivers from federal laws and rules.

But there should be no doubt about what must ultimately be achieved. We cannot and will not tolerate a system that pointlessly kills 45,000 fellow Americans a year. For those who doubt the political potency of this moral imperative, consider that economic facts counsel for an improved Medicare-for-All system just as strongly.

We can be our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper and be cost-effective at the same time. Indeed, it turns out that being cost effective requires that we take care of each other.

Pity Poor Newt Gingrich

11:23 am in Uncategorized by Robert Weissman

Pity poor Newt Gingrich.

Alright, I admit it’s hard to muster much pity for Gingrich.

Still, he now stands as not the first, but the most recent, prominent victim of the Supreme Court’s abysmal decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

So if you don’t have any sympathy for Gingrich, at least feel profound worry about the state of our democracy – and make sure you do something about it.

There are many reasons to believe a Newt Gingrich candidacy was and is inevitably doomed. But it’s nonetheless the case that his downfall in the Republican Iowa caucuses is due in significant part to a full-scale, Citizens United-enabled attack advertising campaign.

Restore Our Future, the Super PAC tied to the Romney campaign, has spent more than $4 million on attack ads and negative direct mail targeting Newt Gingrich, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ tabulations. Led by the Romney-supporting Super PAC (and with an able assist from the Ron Paul campaign), the December surge in TV ads attacking Gingrich in Iowa totaled nearly half of the political ads aired last month in the state. Two thirds of money spent in the Iowa caucuses came from the Super PACs rather than the candidates.

Romney’s Super PAC – like those informally affiliated with Rick Perry, Barack Obama and others – is staffed by friends and former staffers. Election rules permit these Super PACs to raise unlimited amounts from the superrich and – thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United – corporations. The candidates may help raise money for these Super PACs. Super PACs must reveal their donors on a monthly or quarterly basis, though they accept donations from nonprofit organizations that are not required to reveal their donors (and argue the practice is legal). The main limit on Super PAC activity is that they may not coordinate their activities with the candidates or their campaigns. But this is a more formal than consequential restriction, since the Super PACs are staffed by those who know well what the campaigns want.

The Iowa results illustrate on the national stage what became apparent in the 2010 elections: Post Citizens United, the massive funneling of corporate and superrich money to independent organizations is not just going to favor pro-Big Business candidates. It is going to introduce a new level of viciousness and attack advertising, and remove some of the basic accountability from elections.

That’s because while everyone disparages negative advertising, it works. And attack ads from unaccountable organizations with no real membership work best of all. At least candidates who run negative ads must pay a reputational price for running nasty ads; the independent campaign groups don’t care about their reputation, so aren’t susceptible even to this modest form of accountability.

As the New York Times says, Mitt Romney has “outsourced” his negative advertising to Restore Our Future. Newt Gingrich can complain about negative advertising all he wants, but Romney is not going to be much tarnished by the activities of an outfit called Restore Our Future.

Iowa is just a harbinger of what Election 2012 is going to look like. And it’s not just the presidential race where the effects will be felt; in Senate and House races, and in state and local elections around the country, laundered corporate and superwealthy money threatens to dominate the airwaves and the election debate.

Outside groups reported spending $300 million in the 2010 elections (though the total spent was surely much higher) and exerted huge influence. But $300 million is going seem paltry compared to 2012’s spending. Karl Rove and his Crossroads organizations have announced plans to raise $240 million to spend in the 2012 elections. The Koch Brothers plan to spend $200 million. And there’s no way the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will be outspent by these characters. So, we’re looking at something on the order of three quarters of a billion dollars just from these three corporate-dominated outfits.

All of which presents a simple choice: Accept the further debasement of our democracy, the hijacking of government by giant corporations; or take action to remove the corporate stranglehold tightened by Citizens United.

The way forward is clear, if not easy. We need a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United – the pernicious decision holding that corporations have a constitutional right to spend as much as they choose to influence elections – end corporate spending in elections, and clear the way for adoption of a system of public financing for public elections.

January 21 marks the second anniversary of the hideous Citizens United decision. Public Citizen and allies, including Move to Amend, People for the American Way, Free Speech for People and Common Cause, are working with activists around the country to organize protests and events to build a movement for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision and restore our democracy. Get information on the movement and day of action at DemocracyIsForPeople.Org – and make sure to join (or organize) a protest near you.

It’s the least we can do for Newt. And ourselves.

Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen.

(c) Robert Weissman

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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

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

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

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.


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: