Does unlimited spending by corporations and unions on elections corrupt the democratic process or not? For a 100 years the state of Montana has said “yes”, including when its Supreme Court voted down recent attempts to challenge the law, but yesterday the U. S. Supreme Court reversed that decision and said “no.” Actually, they said “no” in a 5-4 decision in the Citizens United case in 2010, and just reaffirmed that yesterday.
Back in 2010, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion declaring that independent expenditures by corporations and unions “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” if those expenditures are absent direct links to political candidates. Hence the seeds of the burgeoning Super Pacs were sewn.
Not that this has surprised most of the folks in Montana. Their history shows the effects of unlimited political spending, which is why they have had a law on the books since 1912 limiting it. The law was written to reduce the overwhelming influence of big mining interests in the state. After the Citizens United decision this law was challenged by corporate interests and the Montana Supreme Court affirmed it, so it was appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court.
Not surprisingly they (the same five judges who had decided in favor of Citizens United) summarily rejected the Montana State law, which means they refused to even hear arguments in favor of it. According to the NY Times, two of the liberal justices, who dissented in the Citizens United decision — Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer — argued that both events since 2010 and the history of Montana were good reasons to reconsider the “absence of links” assumptions used in the 2010 decision. But they were ignored.
“Absence of links” implicitly means the majority of the Supreme Court believe that you can prevent corruption if the money bulging Super Pacs do not directly coordinate their activities with the candidates. Really? You think the Pacs can’t figure out what to trash in the opposition that will help their candidates win. That they can’t grasp the general themes of each campaign and fuel them with their millions? And they don’t expect something in return for their generosity? It doesn’t require a genius or even a phone call for the Pacs to figure it out. At the very least it gives “the appearance of corruption”.
Given how money influenced the Republican primaries, such as Sheldon Adelson’s millions alone keeping the Newt Gingrich campaign afloat, isn’t that enough reason to at least hear the Montana arguments? And now Adelson’s pledged another $60 million or so to support other Republican fall election campaigns AND the fellow billionaire Koch brothers is seeing that $60 million with their own dough while raising it with an additional $360 million they plan to gather….. How could that kind of political clout by a handful of individuals not corrupt the political process?
No matter, Justice Kennedy and his four like minded Supremes refused to rehash the issue. Hence the summary judgement against the Montana law.
Of particular interest to me is that the decisions of the two courts reflect the tension among what seems the multiple personalities in the Republican psyche. Montana is a blood red state whose legislature, for example, is overwhelmingly Republican. But Montana’s court opinion reflects an older, reformist Republicanism, that of Teddy Roosevelt’s time, when big money influence was seen as leading to big corruption. It also reflects the traditional conservative preference for a reduction in centralized power, i.e. more returned to the states.
Whatever their thinking, the five Supremes deciding this issue further fueled the politics of expediency: The belief that whatever it takes to win, no matter what elements of democracy are weakened or destroyed in the process. Not surprisingly, Mitch McConnell was all in favor of striking down the Montana law – anything to beat Obama – while John McCain, who’d love to beat him as well, has retained enough of his old “America first” self to disdain it.
In short even if advantageous at the moment, not all Republicans are blind to the corruptive influence of the invasion of the billionaires. As such this seems a fruitful topic for developing centrist dialogue and actions, as I will gradually elaborate upon in my Centerville pages above.
- Sen. John McCain Trashes Supreme Court’s Citizens United Ruling [READ BRIEF] (ibtimes.com)
- Montana governor calls for amendment to overturn Citizens United (rawstory.com)