The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “DOLLAROCRACY: How the MONEY ELECTION COMPLEX Is DESTROYING AMERICA” by John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney from Chapter 3 on page 67 and I quote: “
Elections are not to turn on the difference in the amounts of money
that candidates have to spend. This seems an acceptable purpose and
the means chosen a common sense way to achieve it. The Court nev-
ertheless holds that a candidate has a constitutional right to spend
unlimited amounts of money, mostly that of other people, in order to
be elected. The holding perhaps is not that federal candidates have
the constitutional right to purchase their election, but many will so
interpret the Court’s conclusion in this case. I cannot join the Court
in this respect. –JUSTICE BYRON WHITE, DISSENT FROM
THE SUPREME COURT’S BUCKLEY V. VALEO DECISION, 1976.”
In 1973, when the U.S. Senate voted to amend the Federal Election Campaign Act not only to address the obvious abuses of the Watergate moment but also to stall the slide toward Dollarocracy, the New York Times celebrated the establishment of “the first effective curbs in American political history on the influence of the rich in government.” A year later, over the veto of President Gerald Ford, the amended law was put into place. For a brief shining moment, it looked as if the United States might actually mark its bicentennial by finally realizing Thomas Jefferson’s last hope for the republic: “that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.”
Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court, as it has so frequently throughout its history, rode in, “booted and spurred,” to defend the Money Power. Before the bicentennial of 1976, and, more ominously, before the first presidential or congressional primary contest of that definitional political year, the court’s landmark decision in the case of Buckley v. Valeo—which rejected federal limitations on campaign expenditures, on expenditures by a candidate from personal funds, and on independent expenditures by individuals and special-interest groups—began a dismantling of the law. Over the next thirty-five years, at every critical turn, the Court would reverse and undermine effective curbs on the influence of the rich on the government of the United States.
How has money prevailed upon the electoral process? How has the united States ended up with what can only be described as a corrupt and corrupting election system? The answers to these questions are almost as depressing as the nature of the money-and-media election complex itself. The dramatic changes in the election system over the past forty years, which accelerated by 2012, did not result from the will of the people expressed through deliberation and debate by their elected representatives. Instead, the decisions were made by a sectlike group of highly partisan, unelected, and unaccountable judges. They declared bluntly and with relish that Americans do not have a constitutionally defined or protected right to vote. They routinely overthrew laws established by elected bodies to promote fair elections; in doing so, the Supreme Court singlehandedly rewrote election law in what is arguably the most overt, opportunistic, and brazen example of judicial activism in American history. We tell the story of democracy not just denied but assaulted in this chapter.
It Started Long Before Citizens United – It is the nature of explorations of political patterns to look for recent developments to explain a bad turn; as such, much attention has been and will be paid to the Supreme Court’s dramatic decision in the 2010 case of Citizens United v. FEC. To be sure, the Citizens United case is a big deal, and we focus on it. But an honest examination of the current crisis must run deeper, to the late 1960s and the early 1970s, when it seemed that a reform moment was at hand. And to the Buckley v. Valeo decision, which interrupted that moment. With its majority opinion gutting key elements of the Federal Election Campaign Act, the Supreme Court did not merely reject recently enacted limits on campaign contributions and expenditures. It asserted the fantasy that money is speech, declaring:
The Act’s contribution and expenditure limits operate in an area of the most fun-
damental First Amendment activities. Discussion of public issues and debate on
the qualifications of candidates are integral to the operation of the system of gov-
ernment established by our Constitution. The First Amendment affords the broad-
est possible protection to such political expression in order to assure unfettered
exchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired
by the people.”
Back in 1976, the Court offered a (soon-to-disappear) measure of deference to the view that the First Amendment freedoms might be preserved in tandem with limits on individual contributions to political campaigns and candidates. After all, if the First Amendment could survive restriction against someone yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater, then it could survive with campaign rules and regulations that were broadly viewed as necessary to maintain the “integrity of our system of representative democracy.” But the Court’s interpretation of that word “integrity” was excruciatingly narrow. The Court did not recognize that removing all limits on campaign spending by the wealthy tipped the balance so that future election results could be bought, rather than won in contests of ideologies and partisanships. Rather, the “integrity” on which the majority was focused consisted merely of preventing the unscrupulous practice of wealthy donors delivering contributions in suitcases full of cash—rather than in envelopes containing checks.
The Court was made up of veteran political players, such as William Rehnquist, an Arizona Republican Party operative who has served as a legal advisor and speechwriter for Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Republican presidential campaign. Rehnquist’s resume included a controversial turn with the right-wing Operation Eagle Eye project, which set up “harassment teams” in the mid-1960s to challenge the citizenship, literacy, and ability of African American voters to interpret the U.S. Constitution. Rehnquist was a jurist who calculated not for the maintenance of representative democracy but for political advantage.
This was what his political benefactors in the Nixon administration intended when they vetted him politically before his appointment to the High Court. In 1971, when Rehnquist was being considered as a replacement for Justice John Marshall Harlan II, Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s national security advisor, raised the issue. “Rehnquist is pretty far right, isn’t he?” asked Kissinger. White House chief of staff HJ.R. Haldeman, whose crude political gaming earned him the moniker “the president’s son-of-a-bitch,” responded, “Oh, Christ! He’s way to the right of Buchanan”–a reference to the most rigidly right-wing of Nixon’s aides Patrick J. Buchanan.
Jurists often evolve during their tenures. This was the case with Rehnquist, who over time would grow increasingly ill at ease with the extremism favored by the corporate elite. In 1976, however, the Nixon appointee was determined to halt the tide of reform that had swept his benefactor from office—and that seemed in the aftermath of the Democratic sweep of 1974 congressional elections to be shifting the United States dramatically to the left.
In the intense behind-the-scenes wrangling on the High Court over the Buckley case, Rehnquist argued with considerable success for the rejection of restrictions on “independent expenditures” on behalf of candidates and parties, of the limitation on expenditures by candidates from their own personal or family resources, and of the elimination on total campaign expenditures. The theory, pushed by Rehnquist, was that, even though individual contributions to candidates might foster corruption, free spending by the wealthy was protected speech. While others on the High Court were more cautious, Rehnquist threw down the money-is-speech gauntlet, arguing, “A restriction on the amount of money a person or group can spend on political communication during a campaign necessarily reduces the quantity of expression by restricting the number of issues discussed, the depth of their exploration, and the size of the audience reached.”
Even that was not enough for Chief Justice Warren Burger, who was so determined to overturn the entire campaign-finance reform enterprise that he dissented for the Court’s decision, arguing that any limit on contributions—even those going directly to candidates—was at odds with the First Amendment. Burger’s extreme view, later adopted by future justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, was mainstreamed in the years following the Buckley v. Valeo decision by Court rulings such as the 1978 First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti decision. Ruling in a case that arose after Massachusetts attempted to limit corporate campaign contributions, the Court’s 5-4 decision in Bellotti effectively extended the money-is-speech protection to corporations declaring that campaign spending could not be limited “simply because its source is a corporation.”
This was too much even for Rehnquist, who argued that the whole notion of Corporate personhood was “artificial,” not “natural” in the sense that the founders had believed human beings were endowed with “natural rights.” “A state grants to a business corporation the blessings of potentially perpetual life and limited liability to enhance its efficiency as an economic entity. It might reasonably be concluded that those properties, so beneficial in the economic sphere, pose special dangers in the political sphere. . . Indeed, the states might reasonably fear that the corporation would use its economic power to obtain further benefits beyond those already bestowed,” wrote Rehnquist, who observed a long history of state and federal limitation on the ability of corporations to participate in politics. He concluded, “the judgment of such a broad consensus of governmental bodies expressed over a period of many decades is entitled to considerable deference from this Court.”
Despite Rehnquist’s wise counsel, that deference was not paid. A series of decisions, most of them little noted outside legal and campaign-finance circles, not only undid existing reforms but also erected barriers to future attempts to control the Money Power.
Lewis Powell’s Master Manipulation – The Bellotti ruling, which laid the formal groundwork for the Citizens United ruling thirty-two years later, was not written by Burger, however. The author, Lewis Franklin Powell Jr., was a jurist who aggressively promoted not just the legal fantasy of corporate personhood but also the remarkable political infrastructure that would come to assert corporate political power.
Media assessments of Powell’s tenure on the High Court frequently portrayed him as a centrist, and few journalists ever described him as an activist. But this view had everything to do with the narrow, frequently listless coverage of the Court, which usually begins and ends with discussions of so-called social issues, such as reproductive rights and protections for lesbians and gays. However, when it came to using the court to extend the reach of corporate power—in the workplace, the media, and politics—Powell was one of the most determined judicial activists in the history of the Supreme Court.
A Virginia lawyer who made a national name for himself in the mid-1960s as the president of the American Bar Association, Powell specialized in corporate law. He served on the board of eleven major corporations, including Philip Morris, and became a legal point man for the tobacco industry in the 1960s, when the federal Communications Commission (FCC) began cracking down on cigarette advertising on television and radio. After congress approved the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act in 1970, which banned advertising for cigarettes, it became increasingly clear to Powell that as the American political process opened up, and as democracy itself extended to include previously disenfranchised groups, corporations were having a harder time dominating the national agenda. It wasn’t just that Ralph Nader—whom Powell derided in what he presumed were secret communications as ”perhaps the single most effective antagonist of American business”–was forcing the auto industry to make cars safer, or that liberal Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin was leading a crackdown on the abuses of the food and drug industries. Even Richard Nixon, who was supposed to be Wall Street’s man in the White House, was signing landmark environmental legislation and, in the summer of 1970, using an executive order to create the Environmental Protection Agency.
In 1971, after his tobacco industry clients had been banished from the all-powerful arena of TV advertising, where it had proven profoundly easy to create new generations of tobacco addicts, Powell pondered the political moment where the commercial interests of big business could be so thoroughly upended by regulators. He took two extraordinary steps. One was very public, the other very private. Together, they would redefine the politics and policymaking of America and provide the set of circumstances that led us to write this book.
In 1969, Powell had turned down Nixon’s offer of a nomination to serve on the Supreme Court; Powell did not want the scrutiny, or presumably the pay cut, and his family was opposed to the move from Richmond to Washington. Yet less than two years later, as it became clear that two senior justices (Hugo Black and John Marshall Harlan) would be stepping down, Powell expressed his openness to being nominated. Nixon was thrilled; he desperately wanted to appoint southerners to the High Court, especially old-school southern Democrats like Powell, whose nomination would highlight the president’s “southern strategy” of making what was once a “solid south” for the Democrats into a Republican stronghold. And Powell, who did not have a record as a judge and who had a reputation as a moderate, would easily pass muster with the American Bar Association he had so recently led. Nixon, himself a former corporate lawyer, dismissed suggestions that Powell at sixty-four was too old, declaring that “10 [years] of him is worth 30 of most.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which was grilling Nixon’s other High Court nominee of the moment (Rehnquist), agreed. After what the New York Times described as a “friendly five hours” of questioning, most of which related to the multimillionaire Powell’s arrangements to sell off his extensive portfolio of corporate stocks and bonds, his nomination was approved and sent to the full Senate. A month later, Powell was confirmed by an 89-1 vote. Senator Fred Harris of Oklahoma, a populist whose politics and rhetoric harkened back to the great struggles to rein in the robber barons, cast the sole opposing vote. Powell, complained Harris, was “an elitist” who “has never shown any deep feelings for little people.”
Fred Harris could not have known how very right he was.”
(THROUGH THE HISTORY OF OUR U.S. SUPREME COURT, THEY HAVE ALWAYS SUPPORTED THE VIEWS OF THE WEALTHY INDIVIDUALS AND WE, AS TAXPAYING CITIZENS AND NON-PAID LOBBYISTS, HAVE TO VOICE OUR OPINIONS AS TAXPAYERS AND VOTERS. IF THE SUPREME COURT CAN’T CHANGE THEIR VIEW, WE HAVE TO GO AFTER ALEC AND THEIR STRONG ARM TACTICS, STATE BY STATE, IN ORDER TO CHANGE THE CONSTITUTION AND OVERTURN CITIZENS UNITED AND THIS IS EXACTLY HOW THINGS ARE WORKING UP TO NOW AND I QUOTE FROM PAGE 264:
“According to Free Speech for People, “America is now one quarter of the way to amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United.” That’s a generous interpretation—as befits movement building—but it points to the popularity of the effort. Three-quarters of the states must approve an amendment before it can be attached to the Constitution; that’s thirty-eight states. By the end of 2012, eleven states had moved in the legislature or at the polls to call for an amendment, and the District of Columbia joined the list early in 2013. On November 6, 2012, Colorado (an Obama state) and Montana (a Romney state) both voted by roughly 75-25 margins for proposals urging their congressional delegations to propose and support an amendment to allow Congress and the states to limit campaign contributions and spending.
On the same day, more than 150 communities across the country weighed voter-initiated questions on the issue. Every single referendum won, and won big. We can find no other issue in our nation’s history that has had such an outpouring of support, without a single defeat or even any credible popular opposition, in so many initiatives.
In San Francisco 80 percent of the voters backed a Common Cause-endorsed proposal to overturn Citizens United. But so, too, did 65 percent of the voters in conservative Pueblo, Colorado. Despite editorial opposition to the resolution by the local newspaper, voters told their congressional representatives not just to back an amendment that declares, “Money is not speech and, therefore, limiting political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech,” but also to recognize that “the inherent rights of mankind recognized under the United States Constitution belong to natural human beings only, and not to legally created entities, such as corporations.” “In each community where Americans have had the opportunity to call for a constitutional amendment to outlaw corporate personhood, they have seized it and voted yes overwhelmingly,” noted Move to Amend activist Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap. “Americans are fed u with large corporations wielding undue influence over our elections and our legal system. Citizens United is not the cause, it is a symptom and Americans want to see that case overturned not by simply going back to the politics of 2000 before the case, but rather by removing big money and special interests from the process entirely.””
THIS IS WHAT I CALL REAL DEMOCRACY IN ACTION AND IF WE KEEP AT IT, WE WILL WIN FOR THE GOOD OF EVERYONE.
LaVern Isely, Overtaxed Independent Middle Class Taxpayer & Public Citizen & AARP Members