WBUR

John Roberts Has Shanghaied Our Democracy

President Barack Obama greets Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts before he delivers the State of the Union Address at the U.S. Capitol in 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama greets Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts before he delivers the State of the Union Address at the U.S. Capitol in 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

BOSTON — Ever since the John Roberts Supreme Court issued its 5-4 ruling in the Citizens United case, a tidal wave of billions of dollars has poured into presidential campaigns and is beginning to flood into elections for Senate and Congress.

Roberts’ role was detailed by Jeffrey Toobin, in a story in The New Yorker that revealed how the chief justice broadened the scope of the 2010 Citizens case. It began when a federal agency said a commercial organization could not run a cable TV “documentary” attacking Hillary Clinton right before an election.

The Roberts Court, aided by ineptitude by the government’s lawyer, converted it into an issue involving freedom of speech. The McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law stood in Roberts’ way and had to be dodged, which Roberts & Co. did.

“Through artful questioning, [Justices] Alito, Kennedy, and Roberts had turned a fairly obscure case about campaign-finance reform into a battle over government censorship,” Toobin said. When the Roberts Court was done, with an assist from a lower federal court that relied on the Citizens finding, they had paved the way for unlimited giving by corporations and extremely wealthy individuals.

Roberts and his right-sided colleagues had created and unleashed a whole new, powerful, wealthy and unaccountable force in American politics, the super PAC.

After Newt Gingrich trounced Mitt Romney in the South Carolina primary, Romney’s super PAC swung into action. A media monitoring service found “a whopping 99 percent of the 3,276 ads paid for by the Romney campaign were deemed negative, while 100 percent of the 4,969 spots sponsored by the pro-Romney Restore Our Future PAC were considered negative.” Gingrich was never a serious threat again.

Nevertheless, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, and his wife, through their super PAC, gave Gingrich $20 million and pretty much single-handedly kept Newt’s political heart beating well past its expiration date.

Last week Forbes magazine reported, “Adelson just donated $10 million to Mitt Romney’s super PAC, and told Forbes he is willing to spend $100 million or more to ensure President Obama is not re-elected.”

That’s $100 million to defeat the president of the United States. Prior to Citizens, such an act was illegal and unthinkable.

Lately, two of Karl Rove-run groups have begun attacking Democrats in key Senate races. Rove, known as “George W. Bush’s brain,” launched TV attack ads worth $6 million into seven states to defeat Democrats. He’s just getting started. His groups aren’t technically super PACs. They are tax-exempt “social welfare” groups, such as the Rotary Club, which aren’t required to divulge their benefactors.

Super PACs are overwhelmingly Republican. Romney’s Restore Our Future PAC has raised $57 million, more than six times as much as Obama’s Priorities USA. There’s more where that came from. Rolling Stone found the median income of donors to Romney’s super PAC is $1 billion.

Since Citizens, we have seen a handful of billionaires trying to buy control of our federal government. This shift of power to the monied few was made possible by what used to be the one branch of government that stood for justice for all.

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who was on the losing side of the Citizens decision, said recently that he expects the court has already had second thoughts about parts of its ruling that opened the floodgates to corporate spending in political campaigns.

But since the court doesn’t meet again to take up new cases until October, it’s unlikely to change what it has created in time for this year’s elections.

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  • K.I.S.S.

    The source of political evil is power not money.  Take away the power and the money will dry up.  Any vote to give government more power is a vote for more corruption.  Done.

    • Dave L.

      Money buys power…

      • K.I.S.S.

        Our government is restricted by the constitution and separation of powers  - it is an enumerated power, clearly identified.  If you give more power to the government it can be bought.  Without the power there is nothing to buy.  You are correct about money buying power because people are corruptible, but you can’t solve it by trying to eliminate money.  It’s like water.  It will seep in to any power sink — Take away the power and you solve the problem.  Look at the history of any organization and you will see it gets corrupted over time — why?  because it concentrates more power into its bureaucracy.   You don’t need money for that.

    • Durham Kid

      In many ways,  Money = Power

      Therefore, any vote to give CORPORATIONS more power through the use of their money is also a vote for more corruption

      • K.I.S.S.

        They will use their money no matter what laws you pass.   You just make it more expensive to keep to administer the stupid laws.  

        • Evereader

           You don’t get it.  The laws are now actually written by the lobbyists working for these companies and corporations with all the power.  It has nothing to do with laws being stupid or hard to administer it has to do with the laws and their impact on us.  If the laws are written by the banks, what can we do?  Do you think college students and their families / parents had anything to do with the laws that now force student loans to be repaid even if the student has died and never got to finish college?  These laws mean that the student law corps can now go after relatives and descendents to get their money.  It’s insane.  It’s a law that needs to be changed.  As long as the banks and “lenders” worse than loan sharks are writing the laws what recourse to we have?

    • Evereader

       KISS whether you call it money or power it’s the same thing, isn’t it?  I feel rather powerful as I am intelligent, see the big picture & know what needs to be done to shape up this country, honestly I do. That may sound arrogant and conceited but to a large extent it’s true.  But what good is this power I feel with out money to try to shape elections and politicians as the Koch Brothers have?  That recent hearing involving the guy who lost billions on Wall Street.  He went before Congress & they were basically giving him a free ride.  It turned out his firm had paid Congressmen millions and they weren’t going to make themselves look foolish, or God forbid accountable.  We are truly going to reap the whirlwind with this change in the law/disregard for any law or rules.  McCain Feingold was a very hard fought, thoughtful useful law.  Now the richest in the country get to control everything.  Do you think all these laws they are going to buy with their ill-gotten wealth are going to help you and I?   Maybe if we were rich like them.   If the only voice in this country that gets their way is that of the rich, where does that leave us?  Yes, we still have a voice but very little power or money or anything except our voice.  That voice, our voice is powerful if we the people, we the government take back that government which is now basically owned by the rich, the 1%.  Every election the social issues that divide us are trotted out, those that do so in turn push the buttons of those who each and every election vote against their own self-interest.  Ads run by the rich to do this happen because they have both money and power.  I want a government of the people with as much power as possible and yes there will always be corruption but a government representing my interests, your interests to me is a good thing. 

    • jefe68

      No, it’s not that simple. Government needs to be held accountable and there needs to be tough regulations in place to prevent the moneyed interest from taking over government in it’s entirety. What you allude to is absurd.

      • K.I.S.S.

        So….who holds the Government accountable?  The Government?  That is absurd.  It is the voters.  Can voters be bought?  Only if they are stupid and/or not informed.  If you assume that voters can be bought then money will always triumph.  OK – let’s give up now, because no matter what you do, money will find a way.  Also, an oligarchy would require coordination on a massive scale.  Don’t think that is happening, but if it is, it has been there all along.  Don’t be naive.  The only solution is to distribute the power so it is not concentrated.  It will make it that much harder to buy.  Give more power to the people and you have distributed it to the max.  FYI – corporations are not EVIL.  They just want to make money for their shareholders.  

    • Mpeinovich

       Money = Power.

  • Durham Kid

    As Americans, we have always feared power and tyranny; therefore we have attempted to have checks and balances in our government.  To a significant degree, this has worked and one of the side effects, at times, has been a somewhat inefficient and ineffective government.   One could therefore conclude that the ineffectiveness of our government is by design.

    What I find stunning is that the groups that are so afraid of their ineffective government (most of whom, incidentally,  seem to think the government is a LOT more ineffective than I do) do NOT fear the power of these corporations with their treasure troves of money – the same corporations that they see as so much more EFFECTIVE and EFFICIENT than the government.

    Which makes sense: a small group of people (the board of directors of a corporation) is going to make decisions and get things done a lot more effectively than a government that is (still somewhat) in the control of many millions of people.

    So…if we fear power, the corporate influence is at least as much a threat as the government.  

    CONCLUSION:  The Citizen’s United ruling was  horribly wrong and is one of the most serious threats to our democracy  in recent memory. 

    • Evereader

       Excellent conclusion, Durham!  Maybe if we simply started calling all corporations “da govmint” people would start fearing them as much as they seem to “fear” the real government which is us.  The image burned in my brain is that of the rescue worker carrying lifeless body of an infant from out of the Murrah Building in OK City, April, 1995.  That child whose life was ended and the other 368 people were us, the people but an outraged person who viewed that building as “the government” viewed it as something out there, evil – them, as many others do in the country and have for some time.  Reagan was sounding the voice of Huck Finn’s dad with his rantings about guvmint.  We don’t get it.  It’s us.  The corporations are them.  A corporation cannot die, cannot be imprisoned, cannot take blame – witness the Ford Pinto deaths that Ford executives knew about but Ford could not be jailed it’s a corporation.  Sad that pole still believe that by killing people you are killing the government. McVeigh never did admit what he did was wrong, take blame or express remorse to my knowledge.  His was a coward.  Feelings are visceral though and denying the truth or reality to a situation is much easier that studying the facts, finding answers or remedies….ok I’ll shut up!

  • Evereader

    I think Roberts and his cloneys simply thought this was a way to rid the country of Obama, period.  I don’t think they truly wondered about the ramifications of what they unleashed.  If you remember, McCain because of the finance laws the repubs followed actually came up short during the election and Obama was awash in money.  Roberts wanted to be certain that never happened again.  In the end it just means those with money have the power, period.  They can buy elections, buy candidates and complete cynicism reigns.  I think things are going to get really bad.  The pendulum will swing back when we howl loud enough that this was a big mistake.  I know the ads are bogus and bought by $$$ all the time.  Do mr. & ms. average voter know & realize that?  Not sure.  God help us with this new twist in the law.  Thank you, mr. roberts….being sarcastic there. 

  • jefe68

    The Citizens United ruling is the worst thing the Supreme Court has ruled on in more than century. What they have done here is obvious, they have opened up the floodgates that will put the final cap on what little democracy we had left.

  • John Harwood

    Neither the Founders nor common-sense Americans today think that corporations deserve or need the free-speech right that the Bill of Rights ensures for natural persons. Any Supreme Court justice who rules otherwise clearly has an agenda in mind, rather than the law.

  • joanne

    Of course all the tax payer union money going to democrats has never been an issue. The left wingers are just trying to consolidate their excuses on why they are going to lose in November.

    • jefe68

      It’s interesting how the all the nastiest and belligerent comments on this forum are coming from those from the right. You folks sure are a class act.

      By the way unions are about 14% of the work force and they are hardly in the league of billionaires whom have very deep pockets indeed.

      Personally I’m for all political contributions being banned. All candidates should get the same amount of tax payers money, yes our money, and equal time on the air waves TV and online.

      • Mark Finnan

        It’s amazing how the right still tries to use the excuse that unions drive the Dems. Union influent in this county has been dying out since the Eighties.

  • res08hao

    If this hurts left wing scum, I am all for it. It must kill the lapdogs in Boston to watch Obama-closet Muslim- swirl the drain.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1421666010 Wilbur Blount

      Way to keep it class “res”.  With comments like that, who needs civil discourse.  Let’s just grab our guns and head on down to the polling booth.

      • Jon

        Leave the guns alone!  They may only be a supreme court decision away from being people too!

    • DJ Allyn

       And when it starts hurting the RIGHT wing scum you will THEN start screaming bloody murder?

      It’s funny, you don’t see a problem with something as long as it is something that benefits you.  But the moment it starts hurting you then there is a problem.

      It is very similar to Obama’s recent Executive Order.  “It’s Unconstitutional!” the right is screaming.  Yet you people said nothing when Bush signed umpteen EO and used signing statements to wipe out entire sections of laws that he chose not to follow.

      Until you realize that Citizens United is a bad thing for EVERYONE,  Left, Right and Center, you are going to be stuck in that little-minded area of ignorance.

    • jefe68

      It is interesting how the language skills presented here are on par with the low level of discourse.

  • flj

    The Citizens United decision only dealt with the rights of
    corporations and unions to spend money in support of candidates.  Wealthy
    individuals have had that right since 1976.  Most of this article criticizes
    the impact that wealthy donors are having on the election process and
    incorrectly assigns the blame to the Citizens decision.

    • Roy Mac

      That is likely correct.  On the other hand, Citizens Utd. DID spawn Willard’s–that would be the Harvard Law J.D.–snarky retort that, “Corporations are people, too, my friend.”  Of course he meant, “persons, too,” but Willard has never been picky about other people’s definitions.

      • Mort

        Under English and US law, corporations have long been considered citizens but only for certain purposes: owning property; signing a contract; paying taxes; engaging in speech being examples.   However, until the regretable Citizen’s United decision, it was never thought that corporations are citizens for all purposes, like for instance voting.  Hence the Supreme Court got it wrong, and unleashed unlimited torrents of big donations from corporations and — for reasons not required by the dispute before the Court — upset prior law by declaring that unlimited donations are okay and, to add insult to injury, that they can be anonymous, something not required by the dispute in question and an example of unbridled legislation by the Court.    Unless wiser heads prevail in reversing it, and Constitutional amendments being extraordinarily unwieldy, we’re just plain stuck, with prior understandings turned on their head.

        Mort

  • 1PierreMontagne1

    Disturbing as it is….

    One must consider that Roberts and Co.’s decision was the only hope of leveling the playing field when it came combatting teh George SOROS NGO’s that flood the Liberal Democrat coffers with untold millions and socially organize the nation towards  the Fascist left.

    • Soundzilla

      You can’t be serious. That’s laughable. Do you even know what a fascist is?

      • 1PierreMontagne1

        Ah a laughable Liberal RINO took the bait.
        One of Soros’s useful idiots perhaps?
        You were no doubt confused by Ronald Reagan when he pointed out that the far right “Fascists” and the far left Marxist Communists were from the bottom of the same barrel – in the end their intrucive policies serve only to end liberty and to enslave.

  • http://twitter.com/humanextinctio1 humanextinction

    Impeach the Corrupt Worthless Supreme Court!

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