Nel's New Day

October 18, 2012

Voter Fraud, Romney’s Lies, Plus Good News

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In past years there have been reportings of people calling Democrats to give them the wrong date for the election. One of these was to tell voters that Republicans would vote on Tuesday and Democrats would vote on Wednesday. Most people reading this say, “Of course, everyone votes on Tuesday.” This year, it’s a county government agency in Arizona that tells Hispanics to go to the polls on the Thursday after the general election.

When Charlotte Walker of Sun City picked up her voter register card, November 6 was the date given in English. That’s the right date. In Spanish, however, people were told that they should vote on November 8, two days later.  The Maricopa County Elections Department said that they made the mistake only on cards that were handed out and that they may have handed out only about 50 cards—although they really don’t know.

Arizona isn’t the only state that’s still working on keeping people, many of them minorities, from voting. The good news in Ohio is that the Supreme Court rejected GOP attempts efforts to block early voting three days before Election Day. The bad news in Ohio is that Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted severely limited early voting hours on those crucial three days to 16 hours, none of them in the evening. Before this weekend, voters cannot cast ballots in-person on nights or weekends. Four years ago, with longer voting hours, and wait times were sometimes as long as two and a half hours. Minority voters who have less flexibility in getting time off from their jobs tend to vote in the evening; the GOP thinks that these same voters tend to vote Democratic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Pennsylvania, billboards in Spanish give the false image that people must have IDs in order to vote. A translation of this billboard is “If you want to vote, show it”–even though a court ruling last week blocked a requirement to produce an approved photo identification at polling places.

 

There’s an old saying, “follow the money.” That’s what Greg Palast did when he discovered that Mitt Romney has “concealed, until now, the fact that he and his wife, Ann, personally gained at least $15.3 million from the bailout—and a few of Romney’s most important Wall Street donors made more than $4 billion. Their gains, and those of the Romneys, were astronomical—more than 3,000 percent on their investment.”

A longtime aide to George W. Romney has accused Mitt Romney of shifting political positions in “erratic and startling ways.” Walter De Vries wrote, “It seems that Mitt would say and do anything to close a deal–or an election.”

When Katie Couric asked VP candidate Sarah Palin four years where she got her news, she didn’t have an answer. Romney does have answers. When Newsmax asked Romney the same question, the GOP presidential candidate said, “You know, increasingly, I’m getting news from electronic sources, whether Newsmax, Drudge, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal Online, even USA Today online, Fox online, CNN online.” There’s that token less-biased source of NYT, but the others are on the right, especially the Drudge, which even has a link to a site saying that black Americans will riot and kill and Romney if President Obama doesn’t win.

Kerry Healey, Mitt Romney’s Lieutenant Governor and a current surrogate for his campaign, called contraception a “peripheral” issue, and referred to women being denied contraception coverage because of religious objections a “hypothetical.” It’s no wonder that the polls show that women are returning to President Obama.

Yesterday I wrote about employers attempting an intimidation attempt to get thousands and thousands of their employees vote for Romney. They got the idea from Romney himself. An audio tape from June has recently been unearthed in which Romney addressed a group of self-described “small business owners,” probably including the Koch brothers. After he talked about how bad for business that President Obama is, he gave them their marching orders: “I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections. And whether you agree with me or you agree with President Obama, or whatever your political view, I hope, I hope you pass those along to your employees.”

In the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court ruled that employers can force their employees to contribute to candidates and threaten them if they don’t vote for the chosen candidates.

Each election seems to bring the United States closer to a theocracy operated by the far right. If this comes into fruition, women could possibly lose the minority representation that we have now. That’s what Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association (AFA) wants. He stated on his radio show this week that political leadership should be in the hands of men. His position comes from Paul’s letter to the women of Ephesus in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 which states, “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, not Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” Fischer will probably not agree with a scholarly approach that this passage—and many others in the Bible—have been mistranslated because it’s written by women.

Romney and Ryan are leading the country to disaster in many ways; here are ten that Jon Perr put together.

1. Economists warn the Romney-Ryan plan means huge job losses, possibly 2 million within the next couple of years.

2. Romney and Ryan both supported Social Security privatization although they may now deny it.

3. 98 percent of Congressional Republicans voted for Ryan’s plan to ration Medicare.

4. The Ryan budget takes $716 billion from Medicare to give tax cuts to the rich.

5. Romney and Ryan will cut benefits for today’s seniors by taking away free preventative care now part of Medicare and reopening the “donut hole” in its prescription drug program which saved 5.4 seniors over $4.1 billion last year.

6. Romney-Ryan plans leaves at least 44 million more without health insurance by 2020: earlier this month, the Commonwealth Fund estimated President Romney would preside over a staggering 72 million Americans without coverage.

7. GOP ticket adds trillions more than President Obama in new debt. Both Romney and Ryan dodge the facts that Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt and George W. Bush roughly doubled it again. Ryan also skips over the fact that he voted for the drivers of most of the debt–two wars, the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, and the Medicare prescription drug plan. The same Republicans leaders who held the debt ceiling hostage last summer voted to raise it seven times under President Bush.

8. Romney and Ryan won’t name a single loophole they’d close. Will the Romney-Ryan administration end the $63 billion Earned Income Tax Credit for working families that Ronald Reagan called “the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress”? How about the $89 billion a year home mortgage tax deduction? Many of those breaks help explain the 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income taxes, otherwise known as Mitt Romney’s “victims” and Paul Ryan’s “takers.”

9. Ryan supports GOP Platform’s ban on all abortions, and Romney changes his mind each day depending on how much he thinks that he needs the women’s vote.

10. Ryan voted for the defense sequestration he attacks President Obama for.

We’ll finish today, however, with a great achievement for the LGBT community and all others who believe that we should have freedom in this country. The ultra-conservative Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs of the 2nd Court of Appeals struck down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional. In so doing, the George H.W. Bush nominee concluded that any law which discriminates against gay men and lesbians requires heightened scrutiny because this class of people “have historically endured persecution and discrimination”; “homosexuality has no relation to aptitude or ability to contribute to society”; “homosexuals are a discernible group with non-obvious distinguishing characteristics, especially in the subset of those who enter same-sex marriages”; and “the class remains a politically weakened minority.” Thus any attempt by government to discriminate against gay people must have an ‘exceedingly persuasive’ justification.”

The case was Edith Windsor v. New York State that I wrote about in more detail on September 29, 2012. Congratulations, Edi!

June 25, 2012

Immigration Not a ‘Victory’ for Brewer

The U.S. Supreme Court is probably holding onto its revelation of the health care ruling until the last minute (aka Thursday), but justices did reveal their decisions on immigration and Montana’s version of Citizens United today. Both these cases will set the direction of the United States for decades to come.

American Tradition Partnership Inc. v. Bullock, the Montana case, was lower profile than the Arizona case on immigration but equally important. Those who watch the millions of dollars rolling into the Republican candidate campaigns know that Citizens United gave corporations unrestricted political spending in the name of “free speech.” Before this SCOTUS 2010 ruling, Montana had passed a law, exactly one century ago, against corporations buying elections, but a 5-4 ruling from SCOTUS refuses to let this law stand.

The immigration ruling, Arizona v. United States, has been far more publicized and perhaps more misunderstood. Justice Elana Kagan recused herself from the decision, resulting in a 5-3 split for most of the decisions.  (Clarence Thomas should take a lesson from Kagan because of his conflict of interest in an extensive number of cases!)

Three provisions of Arizona’s immigration law were struck down; making it a state crime for an immigrant not to be carrying papers, criminalizing the failure of immigrants to register, and forbidding an illegal immigrant from working in Arizona. The fourth provision, the requirement that police check the immigration status of people they stop for traffic or other offenses, was allowed to stand because it seemed to coordinate with federal law and had not gone into effect. The justices left the door open for this provision to be challenged again after it does go into effect, allowing the possibility that it, too, will be declared unconstitutional.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has been touting the decision as a victory. However, most law officials in Arizona, other than the infamous Sherriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, disagree; they view the SCOTUS ruling as a way for them avoid racial profiling. The provision does require Arizona police to check the immigration status of people reasonably stopped in the course of keeping public order in the state, but it doesn’t permit police to hold people if they don’t have papers. The only responsibility that police have is to tell immigration authorities about undocumented immigrants.

According to the ruling, a state doesn’t have the right to make laws on a law reserved for the federal government. In the decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “The state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.” Supporting Kennedy’s decision were Chief Justice John Roberts and liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Samuel Alito joined the majority of five in striking down the provision that immigrants not carrying papers are guilty of a misdemeanor.

From these two rulings came two revelations that are not connected to the decisions themselves. The first is the lack of professionalism from at least one of the justices. Antonin Scalia used his dissent to rant against President Obama’s executive directive to allow undocumented immigrants under the age of 30 to stay in the United States to apply for citizenship if they meet certain criteria including being brought into the country as a minor.

Scalia also declared that the Constitution’s Framers would have “rushed to the exits” if they’d known an executive branch would wield such power and that some of the states would not have joined the union if they knew what the president was going to do. In addition, he stated that keeping the Arizona immigration law was important to protect the state.

This and other comments show that his dissent came from an opinion regarding what “should” be done and not the constitutionality of the Arizona law. Like his arguments during the health care debate, Scalia is showing himself to have lost his ability to “judge”; instead he wants to make law. The conservatives should take notice that Scalia has gone far beyond the classic “activist judge.”

Scalia’s fury may also have come from the way that the ruling seemed to approve of the president’s directive to allow young undocumented workers to remain in the country. On page 17 of the opinion, the Court explicitly lists “a veteran” or a “college student” as two examples of undocumented immigrants who should not experience “unnecessary harassment.”

The other revelation from these two landmark rulings is the consistent rejection of state’s rights. Both decisions put federal rule over states’ rights, the opposite of traditional conservative views. Ironically enough, the four more liberal judges voted for states’ rights in the case of Montana’s case. Scalia, who had a temper tantrum about the sovereignty of state law in the Arizona case voted against Montana having the right to retain a century-old law to keep fraud out of elections.

The decision for a third case, Miller v. Alabama, announced today also ruled federal law over states’ rights when it forbid mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders. The dissent in this case also shows the stress that at least one justice may be feeling. In his dissent to the decision, Alito mixed up the name of the prison administrator, Donald Roper, and the name of the 17-year-old juvenile offender, Christopher Simmons. Alito’s dissent read that Roper “committed a brutal thrill-killing just nine months shy of his 18th birthday.”

The health care case could also be seen as a states’ rights situation, with 26 states trying to keep the Affordable Care Act out of their terrain. There is no second-guessing this court. It may come down to Kennedy’s vote.

June 5, 2012

The Wealthy Have Bought Wisconsin

The Walker recall election in Wisconsin is perhaps the most important 2012 election until the general election on November 6. For almost 18 months, Wisconsin residents have fought Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican legislature as they worked to destroy the middle class in order to give huge tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy. Today, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Citizens United, the Koch brothers and all the other wealthy people and corporations have bought themselves a state: less than an hour after the polls closed tonight, it was projected that Walker and his lieutenant governor Rebecca Kleefisch saved their jobs.

Despite surviving the recall, Walker is legally in trouble for his connection with misappropriation of funds. Thus far, the ongoing John Doe investigation beginning with officials’ theft of veterans funds has netted 15 felony indictments and two convictions. John Doe proceedings are secret, but it is known that Walker has established a legal defense fund, which under state law is only permitted if Walker (or his “agent”) is the subject of a criminal investigation. Thus far, Walker has transferred $320,000 to the fund from campaign monies.

Over a year ago Walker was called before Congress to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. At that time he admitted that he had not campaigned to destroy public bargaining  in Wisconsin and that this legislation, done as a necessary fiscal measure, had not saved the state any money. Although he swore under oath that he did not begin his union-stripping until December 2010, documents from the Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) show that Walker lied under oath, directing LRB to start drafting the anti-union bill in November soon after he was elected.

Because of Wisconsin law, Walker was able to start raising unlimited money for his campaign last November. His opponent, Tom Barrett, could not raise money for this election until two months ago. Walker also benefited from  out-of-state financial support, two thirds of his $30.5 million (as compared to his opponent’s $4 million). Only 26 percent of Barrett’s money came from out of state. Total spent on this election is close to $70 million with Walker having at least 7.5 times as much as Barrett.

Walker supporters apparently approve what Walker has done during his brief tenure as governor:

  • waged war against recycling, wind power, Wisconsin’s wetlands and rivers, and regulations that prevent pollution.
  • tried to kill a popular recycling program that provides 97,000 jobs and over $5.4 billion in economic activity.
  • tried to sell public utilities cheaply to the Koch brothers who heavily contributed to his campaigns.
  • planted “trouble-makers” in crowds of protesters to provide a negative impression of them.
  • tried to sell public deer-hunting land to private companies.
  • promised to “divide and conquer” so that Wisconsin would be a “right-to-work” state without unions.
  • eliminated the collective bargaining rights of 175,000 public employees.
  • dropped Wisconsin to last place in the nation in job creation.
  • disenfranchised tens of thousands of young voters, senior citizens, and minority voters with voter suppression and voter ID laws.
  • put new restrictions on abortions, require schools that teach sex education to promote marriage and allow districts to teach abstinence-only courses.
  • closed state courts to those seeking punitive damages in workplace discrimination cases.
  • rejected $800 million in federal funding for high speed rail development providing thousands of jobs.
  • surrounded himself with corrupt people who stole $60,000 from a veterans fund to help families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq and wounded vets and their families.
  • slashed aid to public education.
  • put the health care coverage of 17,000 people at risk with unfair budget cuts.
  • allowed the extremist, corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to exercise “extraordinary” influence in Wisconsin lawmaking.
  • made wage discrimination easier by repealing Wisconsin’s Equal Pay enforcement law.
  • attacked public workers’ retirement security.
  • blocked the path to skilled middle-class jobs for young workers by repealing rules on state apprenticeship programs.
  • killed the creation of more than 15,000 jobs when he rejected $810 million in federal funds to construct a passenger rail system between Milwaukee and Madison.
  • cost the state $2.4 billion over the next 10 years in new tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations.
  • raised taxes on 145,000 low-income families with children through unfair budget cuts to the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit.

In an attempt at satire, Andy Borowitz’s column today was about the flotilla of “boat people” trying to escape into Canada from Wisconsin. He wrote, “Conor McGlindon, commander of the Royal Canadian Mounted Coast Guard (RCMCG), said …, ‘Word has gotten around that we have policemen, firemen, and basic school lunches up here. You can’t blame these boat people for seeking a better life.’ In Canada, officials fear that refugees from Wisconsin will brave the treacherous journey across Lake Superior in the hopes of giving birth to so-called ‘anchor babies’ on Canadian soil.” This satire is close to the truth.

The unions in this country got people a 40-hour workweek. And paid vacations. And a minimum wage. And breaks including lunch breaks. And overtime pay. And a safer working environment with workers’ comp. And health-care benefits. And more. Yes, these are disappearing because people don’t support unions. Because corporations are able to buy elections, like the ones in Wisconsin, people will lose all these—and more—benefits. That’s what the wealthy and the corporations want to happen in the United States.

January 21, 2012

Citizens United Second Anniversary

Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruling that provides unlimited money for candidate advertising, turned two years old today. After it was presented as a narrow case, the court expanded it to allow political ads, usually negative, in the 60 days before an election and stopped the requirement that the sponsors identify themselves. Eighteen months later, the court protected wealthy candidates in Buckley v. Valeo by ruling that money is a constitutionally protected free speech and then struck down a matching funds’ formula in Arizona that provided more money to a publicly financed candidate if a rival spent over a specified amount.

Despite Mitt Romney’s claim that “corporations are people,” not everyone is happy about the end of democracy because billionaires can easily buy politicians. More than one million people have signed online petitions against the ruling, and measures in at least 23 states demand a constitutional amendment to reverse this ill-conceived decision. On the other hand, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Republican National Committee seem perfectly happy with the ruling, especially because the conservatives will benefit from over 80 percent of the candidates’ financial help. Newt Gingrich was highly disturbed with the super-PACs  supporting Mitt Romney in Iowa but got over it when super-PACs supported him in South Carolina.

Jeffrey Clements, in Corporations Are Not People: Why They Have More Rights Than You Do and What You Can Do About It, provides a review of the Supreme Court’s increasing rulings on corporations’ money protected as political speech while diminishing individual rights. “Rarely have so few imposed so much damage on so many,” the venerable journalist Bill Moyers wrote in the book’s foreward. He compares Citizens United to the 1857 Dred Scott ruling “that opened the unsettled territories of theUnited States to slavery whether future inhabitants wanted it or not.” According to Moyers, “It took a civil war and another hundred years of enforced segregation and deprivation before the effects of that ruling were finally exorcised from our laws.”

Congress has introduced at least 10 proposals to fix the problem, including one that would revoke the “personhood” status of corporations, thus rolling back over a century of Supreme Court rulings. These all come from the “liberal” side and are unlikely to be taken seriously for a long time.

According to Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of University of  California Irvine School of Law and a respected constitutional scholar, individual states could control the runaway spending. One way is to require shareholders to approve corporate political expenditures just as unions have to get approval from their members. Other legislation could prevent a state contractor from spending money for partisan election activities, just as the federal Hatch Act of 1939 did when it limited federal employees from some partisan activities. Montana’s Supreme Court’s has ruled that the state has a compelling interest to regulate how corporations can raise and spend money in elections. The New York state legislature also plans to adopt a public financing regime.

Yesterday’s victory in California supports Chererinsky’s ideas: a U.S. District Court upheld a citywide ban on corporate campaign donations to candidates in San Diego. Judge Irma E. Gonzales said that FEC v Beaumont directed her ruling instead of Citizens United because the earlier case addressed anti-corruption issues.

“According to the Supreme Court, the prohibition on direct corporate contributions was justified by the ‘special characteristics of the corporate structure’ that threaten the integrity of the political process,” according to Gonzales’ decision. It was necessary to “prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption,” Judge Gonzales wrote, explaining the ruling. “Moreover it was necessary to prevent the use of corporations “as conduits for the circumvention of valid contribution limits.”

Polls show that the nation’s populace disagrees with conservative “leadership.” Last Tuesday a Pew Research Center poll showed that 65 percent of voters from both parties familiar with the Citizens United decision consider it a negative impact on politics. The next day a poll from Main Street Alliance, the American Sustainable Business Council, and Small Business Majority revealed that, in a margin of 7 to 1, 66 percent of small business owners believe Citizens United decision has been bad for small businesses, compared to only 9 percent who think it’s positive.

According to one blog, the radical right might be the biggest loser because their super-PACs don’t have the money that “moderate” Romney does. If enough conservatives think that this is a possibility, Congress might work toward erasing this dangerous threat to democracy.

January 6, 2012

Elected Officials Fight Citizens United

In the 21st century everything gets named “super” from Coca-Cola to politics. Super-PACs are a fine example of the bloating that results from “super” things. Unleashed in early 2010 by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, these monsters can raise and spend unlimited funding for candidates. Donors aren’t disclosed until after the presidential primaries or caucuses in early states.

Republican candidates may have approved of these in the beginning, but now some of them are beginning to whine about others’ advantages. Newt Gingrich, targeted by almost one-third of the over $14 million super-PAC advertising before the Iowa caucus, called on Mitt Romney to pull these ads in Iowa; Romney responded, correctly, that he cannot have anything to do with these super-PACs. (According to the ruling, a candidate can have no involvement in this advertising.) Then Gingrich, the man who wanted no negative campaigning on the Republican side, called Romney “a liar” on CBS’s Early Show.

People across the country are getting riled with the ruling. Montana, a state that may have anticipated the problems a century ago, passed a law in 1912 to fight Gilded Age corporate control over its government. The Montana Supreme Court has upheld this law that states, “[A] corporation may not make … an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political party that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party.” States rights will come into play here because Citizens United overturned a similar federal statute when a majority of justices claimed that independent electoral spending by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” that such laws were enacted to combat.

By a 5-2 vote, the Montana Supreme Court refused the ruling that Citizens United barring all laws limiting independent electoral spending. Chief Justice Mike McGrath cited the history surrounding the state law to show that corporate money, even if not directly contributed to a campaign, can give rise to corruption. Over 100 years ago, the ruling in Western Tradition Partnership v. Attorney General came during a time when Montana’s robber barons, the “Copper Kings,” so effectively politically and economically dominated the state that it lost its authority. According to Mark Twain, one Copper King “bought legislatures and judges as other men buy food and raiment.”

To reverse the Montana Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court would, according to  Professor Rick Hasen of the University of California-Irvine Law School, have to have said something like, “We don’t care whether or not independent spending can or cannot corrupt; the First Amendment trumps this risk of corruption.” They didn’t, however, so the Justices will have to explain how the Montana Supreme Court was wrong to consider the factual record in justifying corporate spending limits in campaign finance laws.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals took a similar stand when, in late December, it upheld a 2006 New York City law that, among other things, bans lobbyists from giving gifts to City officials and requires them to disclose all fundraising and consulting activities. Judge Guido Calabresi agrees that corporate expenditures need to be contained: “If an external factor, such as wealth, allows some individuals to communicate their political views too powerfully, then persons who lack wealth may, for all intents and purposes, be excluded from the democratic dialogue.”

Calabresi added that the desire for a functioning democracy “is, I believe, something that is so fundamental that sooner or later it is going to be recognized. Whether this will happen through a constitutional amendment or through changes in Supreme Court doctrine, I do not know. But it will happen.” Calabresi justified his ruling by saying, “Citizens United stated that mere influence or access to elected officials is insufficient to justify a ban on independent corporate expenditures, improper or undue influence presumably still qualifies as a form of corruption.”

A number of cities across the United States from New York to Los Angeles are requesting that Congress pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. The New York City Council suggests that the amendment state  “that corporations are not entitled to the entirety of protections or ‘rights’ of natural persons, specifically so that the expenditure of corporate money to influence the electoral process is no longer a form of constitutionally protected speech.”

California lawmakers have introduced a resolution calling for Congress to “propose and send to the states for ratification a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.” All this is following the large number of small towns that began to protest Citizens United months ago and the Occupy Movement protesters against this ruling.

At this time, the Supreme Court’s ruling that money is constitutionally protected free speech and corporations are legal persons entitled to these protections, will probably overturn Montana’s Supreme Court. That’s the reason that other political entities are taking a different approach.

According to the Constitution, 34 state legislatures can call for a constitutional convention which could create an amendment banning corporate funding from elections. A year ago this didn’t look possible because Republicans seemed to be the only ones benefiting from the misguided Citizens United ruling: now Republicans are hurting too.

Even beyond the very peculiar “free speech, personhood” piece of the ruling is the difference in rules for corporations and unions. According to Citizens United, both corporations and unions are allowed to spend freely on campaigns, but corporations are permitted to stockpile funds whereas unions are refused this provision for corporations. In addition, employees may opt out of funding union political activities, but shareholders are forced to participate in corporate political spending. The difference in treatment of the two groups is very likely unconstitutional, but the judicial branch determines constitutionality. So much for following the Founding Fathers’ wishes!

The advertising industry predicts as much as $4 billion in spending across all the campaigns, including those for president, Senate, House and governorships. Much of this will come from corporations.

In Citizens United, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a 90-page dissenting opinion, arguing that “[t]he conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the political sphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Court’s disposition of this case.” Stevens added, “[a]lthough they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office.”

According to Stevens, “Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”

December 7, 2011

Corporations, Wealthy Work to Increase Political Control

Fortunately, I don’t live in Iowa—or New Hampshire—or any other state that will have primaries or caucuses early in 2012. Those are the states where people have to watch television advertising for and against Republican presidential candidates nonstop unless they have a way to block these ads or just don’t watch TV.

At least TV stations are making big bucks because corporations and super PACS are permitted unlimited spending in federal campaigns, thanks to George W. Bush’s Supreme Court. The activist approach of conservative Roberts court was made obvious in its ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which overturned key provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, rules that kept corporations–and their lobbyists and front groups (as well as labor unions)–from spending unlimited amounts of cash on campaign advertising within 60 days of a general election or 30 days before a primary for federal office.

Former Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, explained the results of the ruling: “We’re now in a situation where a lobbyist can walk into my office…and say, ‘I’ve got five million dollars to spend, and I can spend it for you or against you. Which do you prefer?’” To give all this money to the conservatives, who will probably spend 90 percent of this advertising money and swing the elections toward the far right, the court used the concept of “corporate personhood.”

Grayson said, “One-hundred years of settled law meant that corporations cannot buy elections inAmerica, and they [Supreme Court] not only allowed corporations to buy those elections, but they made it a constitutional right.” Although the plaintiffs said nothing about the First Amendment, the court decided to use this as the basis for their decision. Justice John Paul Stevens noted that the conservative majority had “changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”

Corporate personhood’s origin in English law was based on the approach that companies have to be considered “persons” in order to sue them. An inanimate object can’t be sued.

The nineteenth-century robber barons managed to get a few corrupt jurists to codify the idea that corporations enjoy the same constitutional rights as living, breathing people in the 1886 decision Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. The railroad used the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to avoid paying taxes because states had different tax rates.

The courts bought the argument, but historian Thom Hartmann found no mention about “corporate personhood” in the original verdict. This declaration comes from the headnote to the case—a commentary written by the clerk, which is not legally binding—in which the Court’s clerk wrote: “The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Over 100 years of Supreme Court decisions have been based on an incorrect headnote written by J.C. Bancroft David, a corrupt official, who had previously served as the president of a railroad, working “in collusion with another corrupt Supreme Court Justice, Stephen Field.” The railroad companies, according to Hartmann, had promised Field that they’d sponsor his run for the White House if he assisted them in their effort to gain constitutional rights.

Even after the ruling, Hartmann noted, the idea of corporate personhood remained relatively obscure until corporate lawyers dusted off the doctrine during the Reagan era and used it to help reshape the U.S. political economy. Nike, Sinclair Broadcasting, Dow Chemical, J.C. Penney, tobacco and asbestos companies—all these corporations used the amendment written to free the slaves for their own benefit to avoid surprise inspections, keep secret dangers of their products, and continue practice illegal discrimination. All these companies succeeded except for Nike.

Legal reporter Dahlia Lithwick condemned the court’s “systematic dismantling of existing legal protections for women, workers, the environment, minorities and the disenfranchised.” Those who care about spiraling inequality, she wrote on the Slate, “need look no further than last term at the high court to see what happens when—just for instance—one’s right to sue AT&T, one’s ability to being a class action against Wal-Mart, and one’s ability to hold an investment management fund responsible for its lies, are all eroded by a sweep of the court’s pen.”

Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), among others, are fighting back against this corrupt vision of corporate control by introducing and supporting a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling. Udall’s proposal would authorize Congress to regulate the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns, including independent expenditures, and allow states to regulate such spending at their level. It would also provide for implementation and enforcement of the amendment through legislation. Over 750,000 people have signed petitions to void the Supreme Court ruling.

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) also provided the following: “The SCOTUS made a mistake in the Citizens United ruling by equating money with political speech. We must redress this error before special interest money comes to dominate political campaigns and determine the outcome of American elections.

“On June 24, 2010, I joined with my colleagues in the House to pass HR 5175, the DISCLOSE Act, which aims to curb the ill effects of Citizens United in the near-term. Had the DISCLOSE Act passed in the Senate  it would have required corporations, unions, and other interests to adhere to campaign finance disclosure and expenditure requirements similar to those already in place for candidates standing for election to Congress. Although this bill would not have prevented an influx of money in federal elections, it would have made the sources of such money transparent to the public and prevented foreign intervention.

“In the 112th Congress, I have reintroduced a proposed amendment to the Constitution of theUnited States, H.J. Res 72, to address the long-term and fundamental problems presented by the Citizens United ruling. My proposed amendment would add a new and unfortunately necessary clause to the Constitution affirming that money can be a corrupting influence in a democracy and therefore excessive use of money to buy elections can be restricted under the Constitution of our great country.

“Money does not equal speech. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure free and fair elections in Oregon and throughout the United States of America.”

At least one judge is determined to go farther than the Supreme Court in allowing corporations carte blanche. Although the Supreme Court ruling allowed unlimited independent expenditures in political campaigns from corporations and other organizations, it did not overturn the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates campaigns. Judge James Cacheris of Virginia ruled that “Citizens United requires that corporations and individuals be afforded equal rights to political speech, unqualified.” The Department of Justice is appealing Cacheris’ ruling to the 4th Circuit Court.

Worse yet, Karl Rove has asked the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) if he can run coordinated political advertisements, featuring candidates the PAC is supporting. He justifies his request in this way: “While these advertisements would be fully coordinated with incumbent Members of Congress facing re-election in 2012, they would presumably not qualify as ‘coordinated communications.’”

After debating the question of whether super PAC ads featuring a member of Congress would violate the coordinate ban, which blocks certain interactions between independent groups and candidate committees, the FEC deadlocked at a 3-3 vote. The PAC’s lawyer, Thomas Josefiak, said, “Certainly they’re coordinated, but we’re using that in the lay sense. The question is, is it coordinated from a regulatory perspective?”

The topic was a source of discussion–and hilarity–on Stephen Colbert’s comedy show, The Colbert Report. Typical of Colbert’s tongue-in-cheek approach, he provides a solution to Rove’s request: “To avoid the appearance of collusion, the F.E.C. could rule that candidates can appear in Super PAC ads only against their will,” he wrote. “They’d have to be kidnapped, blindfolded, and thrown in a van before being forced to read a statement supporting their goals and then returned to their fundraisers in time for dessert.”

Commissioner Ellen Weintraub thanked Colbert for “shining a light on this little corner of government” as she brought up the hundreds of comments the commission had received on Rove’s request from viewers of his show.

The thin line between comedy skits and supposedly serious political discussions has dissolved.

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