Corruption

Objective journalism is one of the main reasons American politics has been allowed to be so corrupt for so long. You can’t be objective about Nixon. How can you be objective about [Bill] Clinton? … If you consider the great journalists in history, you don’t see too many objective journalists on that list. H. L. Mencken was not objective. Mike Royko, who just died. I. F. Stone was not objective. Mark Twain was not objective. I don’t quite understand this worship of objectivity in journalism. Now, just flat-out lying is different from being subjective. — “Writing on the Wall – An Interview with Hunter S. Thompson”, Matthew Hahn, The Atlantic, August 26, 1997.

Yes, I intend to have an epigram for each of my blog entries … and wherever possible, the epigrams shall be quotes from Hunter S. Thompson, a man who appeared insane and out of control (and who may very well have been in most ways), but in terms of his scathing journalism, he might also have been the most brutally honest writer of the 20th century. Very often, He Speaks Truth, and it’s startlingly common to find that something he said or wrote 20 or 40 years ago is just as true today (if not more so) as when he wrote it.

Now, I’m going to insert another quote here, not as an epigram, but to put the topic of today’s sermon In Your Face:

[W]e now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. … The fact that speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that these officials are corrupt: “Favoritism and influence are not . . . avoidable in representative politics. It is in the nature of an elected representative to favor certain policies, and, by necessary corollary, to favor the voters and contributors who support those policies. It is well understood that a substantial and legitimate reason, if not the only reason, to cast a vote for, or to make a contribution to, one candidate over another is that the candidate will respond by producing those political outcomes the supporter favors. Democracy is premised on responsiveness.” McConnell, 540 U. S., at 297 (opinion of KENNEDY, J.). … The appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy. By definition, an independent expenditure is political speech presented to the electorate that is not coordinated with a candidate. … The fact that a corporation, or any other speaker, is willing to spend money to try to persuade voters presupposes that the people have the ultimate influence over elected officials. … [I]ndependent expenditures do not lead to, or create the appearance of, quid pro quo corruption. In fact, there is only scant evidence that independent expenditures even ingratiate. — Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), opinion of KENNEDY, J., speaking for the Court, emphasis mine.

The United States Supreme Court ruling on the Citizens United case startled and shocked not only most Americans, but most political observers around the world. Anyone who’s paid any attention to any form of politics anywhere in the world recognizes that there always is, and always will be, some corruption. It takes a certain level of ego to run for office, and it’s not a big step to go from “I certainly deserve to hold office!” to “I certainly deserve to have my palms greased!” As long as any person holds any amount of power, there will be others who will seek to influence that person to use their power for the benefit of those others. And those others will offer compensation to that person to exert that influence; usually money, but sometimes it’s trade goods, promises of more powerful positions later, offering the services of prostitutes, you name it.

Even in the United States of America, a nation founded on the highest principles, whose Constitution has been the basis for the constitutions of just about every other nation on the Earth, there is corruption. And Americans know there is corruption. Not many speak openly about it, but get anyone talking about politics in a private setting, and it won’t take long  before corruption is brought up. Sometimes someone will say “our side is fine, it’s only the other side who’s corrupt,” but even those people will admit, if only to themselves, that their side is corrupt as well.

Now, you can argue whether efforts should be made to discourage corruption (knowing that we’ll never be able to eliminated it completely). And you can argue what specific efforts could or should be made to reduce corruption.

What was so startling about the Citizens United majority decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy was that he demonstrated something that was wither a woeful degree of naivete, or a towering falsehood, a lie such as has never been lied before, a lie so transparent that no one could believe that anyone else could believe such a thing. But there it is, right there, on page 42 of the Court’s released judgment: “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

In this setting, “independent expenditures” meant, not donations given directly to a candidate or to their political party or campaign, but rather, spending that went elsewhere. The specific item in this court case was a 30-minute purported “documentary” about Hillary Clinton (then Democratic Senator for New York and 2008 presidential candidate), which was to have been shown for free as a “video on demand” via various cable TV companies. This “independent expenditure” violated the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill (officially the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002). But the Citizens United group appealed to the US Supreme Court, claiming the Act’s provisions violated their right to freedom of speech and expression.

But here came Justice Kennedy, backed by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas, telling us with blank faces that “Oh no, ‘independent expenditures’ like this would NEVER lead to corruption, or even the APPEARANCE of corruption!”

Well, guess what. That’s bullshit. Pure, grade A, organic, finest kind organic fertilizer. There have  been many, many, MANY examples in the last six years. But a Wednesday piece in The Guardian clearly exposes probably the single most clear-cut example, which no self-respecting person could possibly argue against.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker speaks at the the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Forum in Des Moines

Scott Walker has been the Republican governor of Wisconsin since January 2011. He has taken many drastic actions to reshape the state to match his desires, bashing unions, slashing government expenditures including public service salaries, while also rewarding big business in various ways. Voters in Wisconsin launched an effort to recall him from the post in 2012, but he managed to survive that vote 53-46%, a margin slightly than the margin with which he won the governorship in 2010 (52-46%).

But when the recall campaign began,Walker was scared. How was he going to raise the money for this campaign, so soon after his actual election to the post? Well, he asked his “people”, who told him “Corporations. Go heavy after them to give. Take Koch’s money. Get on a plane to Vegas and sit down with Sheldon Adelson. Ask for $1m now.” Straight from one of over 1,500 leaked emails obtained by The Guardian. And sure enough, money started flowing in. One $10,000 check from one financier had, handwritten in the “Memo” field, “Because Scott Walker asked”.

because-scott-walker-asked

The money didn’t go straight to Scott Walker. It did not go to his political party or to his official campaign apparatus. It went as “dark money”, to a group that doesn’t have to disclose its donors. These “dark money” groups aren’t supposed to co-ordinate their donations in any way with candidates or their campaigns. Justice Kennedy said so explicitly in the Citizens United decision: “By definition, an independent expenditure is political speech presented to the electorate that is not coordinated with a candidate.” [emphasis mine]

But guess what? This money from this dark money group was perfectly co-ordinated with the candidate’s efforts to avoid recall. There’s no way I can do justice to the whole story, and the whole article, here in my blog. You can go follow that link and read the whole story, and become convinced yourself that what Kennedy said was either inexcusably disingenuous, or it was a case of him lying through his teeth to the American people.

So. No wonder Americans’ only real choices for President this year are someone who is a pawn of Wall Street, and someone who is a clown on Wall Street. Are you happy with this? Do you think this is A Good Thing? Or do you worry, as I do, that this is yet one more reason #WhyAmericaIsDoomed if enough Americans don’t stand up to fight against the corruption that makes American government a government of the dollar, by the dollar, and for the dollar?

 

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