Thursday, June 21, 2012

Buy One Senator, Get One Free

IF YOU'RE LIBERALLY-INCLINED and don't usually read the Wall Street Journal, you probably didn't see the editorial, Money and the 'Appearance of Corruption'which ran June 14.

If you're a liberal--or even a living, breathing, thinking American--you might be worried about the toxic effect of the odious 2010 U. S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. You might be concerned about the torrents of money now unleashed and flooding our political system, tens of millions offered up to politicians by individuals like Sheldon Adelson or the Koch brothers, Charles and David. You might fear that tens of millions, donated by giant corporations, will inevitably warp the democratic system.

You might be concerned, as an earlier U. S. Supreme Court decision put it, about the "appearance of corruption." 

Ha, ha, don't fret. No way. Don't be ridiculous, thinking Americans! Remember what mom used to say:  "Money can't buy happiness--or politicians."

That's the position taken by Paul Sherman in an editorial defense of the U. S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United case. While many observers might tell you this was the Supreme Court's worst decision in a decade (actually the worst decision of the staunchly conservative, five-vote, John Roberts-led wing), Sherman, an attorney at the aptly named "Institute of Justice," a conservative group which litigates campaign-finance cases across the nation, begs to disagree. He begins by noting that the State of Montana is challenging the ruling based on laws passed at the turn of the 20th century and designed to deal with a rash of cases of political corruption. (What! Money can't buy politicians!! You people in Montana, in 1916, you must have been fooled by the lamestream media into thinking it could!)

Sherman called Montana's position untenable and in the deepest recesses of a conservative soul prayed that the U. S. Supreme Court would "double down on Citizens United and reject, once and for all, the flawed justification underlying much of America's failed experiment with campaign-finance law--the so-called appearance of corruption standard."

That standard, set in 1976, in Buckley v. Valeo, held that Congress and the states could pass laws to address "corruption and the appearance of corruption." Sherman called that decision misguided and dangerous:
The "corruption" half of that ruling is uncontroversial--few seriously dispute the validity of laws proscribing conduct like offering or accepting bribes. But the power to regulate the "appearance of corruption" has proven dangerously open-ended, leading inexorably to greater government control of political speech.

Sherman offered no examples of this chilling government control; and given the skill with which both the Tea Party on the right and Occupy Wall Street on the left have stirred political discussion in recent times (and rightfully so), his worries seemed clearly misplaced. Sherman took note of the original justification for the appearance-of-corruption standard (that "a deregulated system of campaign finance would lead to public cynicism and distrust of our democratic process") but then made it clear he was having no part of such lame judicial reasoning.

In fact, the opposite was true.

Sherman is an advocate of untrammeled freedoms. This nauseating sense we might get when we hear that huge corporations and insanely rich individuals can now pour tens of millions into political campaigns, effectively drowning out the opinions of others...why, don't be silly. There's no need to fear any appearance-of-corruption: 
That argument ignores that a healthy distrust of government is vital to ensuring that government stays within its constitutionally limited role. Campaign-finance proponents want to grant government the power to restrict political activity for the purposes of managing its own PR. The result of doing so is that government still has the same amount of power to abuse, but fewer people will notice or be concerned. That is a great way to promote big government but a lousy way to promote trustworthy government.

Yeah. Trustworthy government! That's the ticket! And thank god for guardians of our precious freedoms, stalwarts like Paul Sherman. Thank god for the unbiased positions of the Wall Street Journal when it comes to Big Business influence in government. Thank god, Sherman has reminded us that our campaign-finance laws, under Buckley v. Valeo, have created a mess that another WSJ editorial described as a "half-dead monster."

Sherman notes--one editorialist for the conservative paper agreeing with another--that the awful monster "keeps shambling forward, wreaking havoc on the First Amendment." You read that, and you almost want to shout, "Save us, save us, big corporations and insanely rich individuals!"

"Dump huge piles of money on the monster and kill it!"


THE EDITORS OF THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, now reduced to servants of Rupert Murdoch and his vast corporate empire, and writers like Mr. Sherman, would have you imagine that this is a clarion call in the name of liberty!

In fact, Sherman's piece is a pile of steaming horse manure, dressed up in conservative logic in a vain attempt to make road apples, as we used to call them, look like fresh-baked apple pie.

Really, what do we have to look forward to if the decision in Citizens United stands, or worse ends up extended? Even Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who leads all individual contributors in this election cycle, with $35 million donated (we must stop Mitt Romney, he's unfit! not conservative enough! vote for Newt; no, wait, Newt can't win; we must elect Mitt Romney! he's actually a great American and I have the money to prove it!) has said he doesn't necessarily agree with the Supreme Court decision but as long as it's legal he's going to spend as much as $100 million to defeat President Obama.

So where does it all end?

Consider a story in today's New York Times, about Swiss bank UBS and its efforts to curtail activities by Robert Wolf, one its own top New York executives, a leading fund-raiser for Mr. Obama? Why does a Swiss banking institution care about a U. S. presidential election? It might have to do with the fact the federal government forced UBS in 2009 to pay a $780 million fine and divulge the names of 4,450 super-rich Americans  who were hiding tens of billions in secret accounts to avoid paying income taxes. You know. The kind of Big Business heroes you can trust to donate unlimited sums of money to politicians. Probably loyal readers of the Wall Street Journal and staunch conservatives who love America more than liberals do, who just don't want to give America any money to meet its needs--stupid stuff, like national defense, health care for seniors and disabled children, roads, bridges, you know, stuff like that.

In fact, conservatives seem to believe they're the only ones with a healthy distrust of government. But every liberal who can remember back to Watergate, to cite but one example, has his or her own healthy distrust of government.

It's just that liberals have an even healthier distrust of government when they think it's going to be taken over, lock, stock and barrel, and run entirely by Big Business interests.

Sherman doesn't dare touch that topic with an editorial ten-foot pole. But most Americans see the obvious danger. If one individual or one corporation can donate unlimited sums, how do we stop them from buying up politicians wholesale? Washington, D. C. is already swarming with lobbyists, like teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert. It's not like Big Business can't already make its voice heard.

What happens next, if the wishes of the editors of the Wall Street Journal come true? Do big drug companies start pouring tens of millions into campaigns for the U. S. House of Representatives? Does Pfizer adopt a dozen Republican lawmakers, maybe a Democrat or two, and avoid unpleasant situations like the one the company faced in 2009:  coughing up $2.3 billion to settle civil and criminal complaints for the illegal marketing of Bextra, a pain-killing drug? Do these bought-and-paid-for legislators push for more of a "pro-business" stance at the Food and Drug Administration? Maybe they vote to curtail federal protections for whistle-blowers, too, since whistle-blowers at Pfizer exposed the company to begin.

Or maybe a few bought-and-paid-for members of the U. S. Senate lean on the FDA to go easy in its investigations of the harmful side effects of all-metal hip joint replacements, now failing at alarming rates, often shedding steel flakes into surrounding tissue. You know:  a lot of conservative politicians already believe tort reform, making it harder to sue for medical malpractice, is the real key to "health care reform."

And, aw, shucks, so what if grandma's hip replacement is causing her excruciating pain!

If the Supreme Court stands by or expands its Citizens United decision the possibilities are endless. (Mr. Sherman might even turn to a few news items in the Wall Street Journal if he'd like to see examples!) What! You say ING Bank has been fined $619 million for laundering money for Cuba and Iran, in violation of U. S. sanctions? Time for ING to buy, no, donate to the campaigns, of two or four or six U. S. senators and put them to work fighting Dodd-Frank regulations. Huh? You say Big Sugar, as the Journal itself labels corporate agri-business interests, want to protect billions in farm subsidies? Let them donate $5 million to the reelection campaign of three members of the House of Representatives for Louisiana and get the right kind of men and women into office, you know, fans of sugar. Watch Wal-Mart spread around $50 million to politicians in all kinds of local races in ten different states; because what do we know first and foremost about Wal-Mart? That all Wal-Mart executives care about in the end is expanding freedom! And all Wal-Mart asks is that the politicians they purchase help pass laws to make it harder to organize unions. The politicians get elected and if Wal-Mart likes their work, refinanced, and re-elected. Wal-Mart clerks still earn $11 per hour and still sometimes qualify for food stamps.

And see what happens now when UBS forks over $10 million during the 2012 presidential race. Watch Mitt Romney take a stand against increased federal regulatory power! Watch Mitt opine that President Obama doesn't understand how to run a business! Watch Wall Street bankers, in their enthusiasm for the First Amendment, dump hundreds of millions into Republican coffers! Watch the banking industry prove, as it did in 2008, that only businessmen and businesswomen know how to run a business! Watch the politicians sit idly by; squint a little, and if you look at it just right, it makes a UBS donation seem like a wise investment.

Especially if they can avoid a few hefty fines next time around.

You might say, "This has the appearance of corruption to me." But you would be stupid and probably a socialist and the editors at the Wall Street Journal would insist you were secretly a foe of all human freedom, anti-American at heart, as well, and say that you hated god and your mom and that apple pie, too.

TRUST PAUL SHERMAN on this one. After all, he's a lawyer.

Money can't buy happiness or politicians.


  1. Another fantastic piece Mr Viall. If some on your team, faithful to the principles laid down by our founders, will begin begin ousting the lifers from congress as we Tea Partiers have, we can oust defeat the oligarchy and remake this nation. God save the United States!

    Your Randian friend, Jay

  2. Jay: It will be like Team Jacob and Team Edward, but without the six-pack abs.