The DISCLOSE Act was summarily executed via filibuster in the Senate last night. But this is one symbolic vote that mattered, because it offered at least an attempt to address the flow of hidden money into our elections.
But wait, you say—the promise of Citizens United was to balance unlimited money with unprecedented transparency. Well, brace yourself, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way. In fact, the trade of cash for transparency has been undercut by a variety of vehicles, especially the use of 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations grafted onto super PACs that allow for anonymous donations and big-ticket expenditures that we won’t see until the election is in the rearview mirror.
Constitutional scholar David Cobb, recently spoke to a full house at the Pawtucket Public Library. Mr.Cobb is one of the founders of Move to Amend, an organization that seeks to amend the Constitution so that you have to be a person to have the rights of a citizen. The Supremes recently refused to challenge the premise of Citizens United, that corporate money is speech. Now it’s final that anonymous money is protected. That kind of citizen does not have to show its papers at the polling place, or even show its face.
Citizens United opened floodgates of corporate money in politics. Go here to find a petition for transparency. We can’t stop the big guys from cranking up the price of campaigns, but we can at least require that they show their faces.
The next edition of this board game hopefully won't have that card included...
More on Citizens United and Super PACs
From HuffPo: Citizens United and Contributions to Super PACs: A Little History Is in Order
From Salon: The hard truth about Citizens United
From Open Secrets: Super PACs (full breakdown)
Thought for the day before I head off to work–
I once read an analysis of an election where the losing candidate invested his personal fortune and major money in the campaign. Dividing that number by number of votes he got gave the ‘cost per vote’ figure. His opponent spent less and got more votes and won.
I have already been personally called by Wayne La Pierre of the NRA (National Rifle Association), though possibly it was a recording– I was on my way out and couldn’t talk to him. I also have Herman Cain of the NRA (National Restaurant Association) popping up on every web page I visit, begging for $999,000. Right now I don’t even have $9.99 to spare so his pleas are wasted on me.
I have not forgotten the election of 2000, and Florida’s Secretary of State Kathyrn Harris. I have not forgiven her flawed blacklist of banned voters that resulted in citizens being turned away at the polls because someone with a similar name appeared on her list. And I am not reconciled to states narrowing access to the vote in a witch hunt for voter fraud at the polls. Voter fraud is much more efficient at higher levels.
The deluge of money into our electoral process, amplified since the Citizens United decision, will result in the death of many trees and gazillions of kilowatts of screen power to direct our attention to the most well-funded candidates.
However, there is not a straight line between cost per vote and winning. The dedication of people who are Occupying worldwide is driven by a sense of urgency not owned by any political party or drummed up by advertising.
The cost per vote, really, is the sweat, blood and tears of patriots. When we defend our voting rights and the rights of others we are defending Democracy from the appeals to fear and apathy that serve the interests of the corporate persons who can outspend any mere human citizen.
Less than two weeks mid-term elections, a devout Tea Party activist decided to bring an old Republican scandal out front and center. The Clarence Thomas hearings never did settle the question of whether Thomas was falsely accused of crude and harassing behaviour to an employee. Anita Hill, in her subsequent life as a law professor, did nothing to suggest that she was unstable or a publicity-seeker. The episode came down to ‘he said, she said’ and was largely forgotten. Thomas, when he was discussed at all, was criticized or praised for his judicial conduct.
And then Ginni Thomas re-opened the whole painful mess, when she grabbed the phone at 7:30am on a Saturday and left a recording. Why not a carefully worded letter? Why not a tactful approach through an intermediary? This looked like the kind of impulsive thing you might do when you are under the influence of something.
I am leaning to the Serena Joy theory. Ms. Thomas was pumped up on the high of her political movement, she surrounded herself with true believers, and it seemed obvious that Prof. Hill must be living a life of shame, just waiting for the day when she could confess her sins and be forgiven. Ms. Thomas looked forward to forgiving her. I think she would have enjoyed doing it in a stadium, Ginni wearing a flowing white robe, Anita in sackcloth. I heard the Crystal Cathedral is up for rent.
But it’s said that Ginni Thomas is a very smart woman and an expert strategist. So maybe Ginni Thomas was taking one for the team…
Why now? What, after almost twenty years, prompted Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to leave a message on Brandeis professor Anita Hill’s office voicemail asking her to apologize for accusing Justice Thomas of sexual harassment during his 1991 confirmation hearings?
The timing was interesting. Ginni Thomas placed her call to Hill the morning after the New York Times reported that Virginia Thomas’s new Liberty Central organization accepted “large, unidentified contributions” totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those untraceable dollars came in the flood of right-wing funding following the Citizens United campaign finance decision, in which Justice Thomas voted with the majority. The Times reported that a wide range of legal ethicists said Liberty Central’s financing raises “knotty questions” about a conflict of interest for Justice Thomas.
A famous line from Watergate was ‘follow the money’. We are being flooded with messages but the messengers stay behind the scenes. This has to end.
Free speech is the foundation of democracy. Anonymous paid speech is no substitute– it’s counterfeit. If Ginny Thomas intended to take the spotlight off her own activities it’s not going to work.
I favor the ‘dialing while disturbed’ explanation. We don’t always act rationally.
TAKE YOUR PICK: The Week has five theories of why Ginni Thomas made that call, including the two covered above.
ENRICHING FAMILY VALUES: I heard a lawyer on NPR discussing the potential conflict of interest if a judge makes a decision that allows his wife to recieve– say a quarter of a million dollars for her organization, which might gratefully give her a raise, and then she buys new furniture, or adds a deck to the house or some such contribution to the judge’s domestic comfort. It could look like he wasn’t 100% impartial. It’s funny how little it takes to compromise someone if they are not vigilant about ethics.
I’m putting up an old post about that, recalling how John McCain managed to marry a woman who was richer than God and live with her for decades while keeping their finances totally separate–
‘Life of Sacrifice–The Journals of Cindy McCain’
NO SYMPATHY: New American Media, which covers minority issues, is cutting Clarence Thomas no slack.
We all develop an almost unconscious skill– judging the message by the messenger. Like when you half-notice a commercial about clean water, green energy, we care… we’re Beyond Petroleum…
Well, it’s hard not to flash on exploding oil rigs and dying birds. It’s a survival skill to not trust words over actions.
But when the message is appealing, and constant, and on the TV every thirty seconds– and the messenger is some bland organization like ‘Committee for a Better America’ ( I just made that name up, though there may be one)– it’s hard to sort out motive. Motive, of course, is the essential information you need when someone is trying to get your money or vote.
The ‘Citizens United’ decision by the Supreme Court lets corporations act as persons in the political realm. They’re persons just like us except more powerful. Kind of like the gods in Greek myths. Except they’re real. Don’t tick them off.
The Senate is voting on a measure today that would require big money to show its face. This is essential if we are to evaluate the flood of political speech coming our way. We need to know the interests of the speaker. The Disclose Act is a very mild reform, but it’s a start.
The Senate has before it a measure, known as the Disclose Act, that would fix this mess; the House has already passed its version. Unfortunately, it has not been able to attract any Republican support and therefore is short of the necessary 60 votes. In its current form, the measure would go beyond expanding disclosure requirements to prohibit certain kinds of corporations — for example, government contractors — from seeking to influence federal elections. But supporters are said to be willing to strip out all but the disclosure portions of the legislation and to delay its effective date until after the upcoming election.