Citizens United Case Category

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

We’re coming up to the one year anniversary of the US Supreme Court’s fateful Citizens United v. FEC decision. The 5 to 4 decision on January 21, 2010, equated corporations and unions with people and granted them “free speech” rights to spend unlimited money to tell real people which candidates to elect or defeat. Public Citizen has a new, comprehensive report on the consequences of this giveaway of our election system. The nonpartisan group is also working with many other organizations to hold events in Washington and around the nation to mark the anniversary; check this listing for events and add your own! Meanwhile, Ben and Jerry (the people) of Ben & Jerry’s (the ice cream company) are organizing business owners and corporate leaders into a group called “Business for Democracy” to oppose the Citizens United decision. They plan their first action and unveiling of their website on the January 21 anniversary.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Remember Tom DeLay, aka “The Hammer” – one of the most powerful men in Congress when George W. Bush was president? A judge sentenced the former US Representative from Texas to three years in prison for an elaborate scheme to funnel $190,000 in illegal corporate contributions into state elections. The money helped Republicans win a majority in the Texas legislature in 2002 – and then redraw the district lines so more Republicans from Texas could be elected to Congress.  DeLay laundered the corporate money by sending it through the national Republican Party and then back to help state legislative candidates in Texas. But it’s illegal for corporations to make contributions to state candidates in Texas, as it is in North Carolina. Interestingly, a few years before DeLay committed his crime, then Republican House Speaker Harold Brubaker was performing a similar laundering job with corporate money to help his fellow Republicans win a majority in the North Carolina House in 1996. The brazen schemes of Brubaker and his associates are now more than a dozen years old, but they make for fascinating reading, especially in light of the GOP victory in 2010 and the Citizens United decision.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

The investment by Art Pope Inc. in NC General Assembly elections could begin to look like a buyout of the state legislature. Not only did Pope’s corporate money (from Roses department stores and his other enterprises) play a decisive role in Republican victories, he now has staff members from his wholly owned non-profits moving over to the House Speaker’s office as top aides. The Institute for Southern Studies gives the details and context.


Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Ten years ago this week, the US Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore turned over the White House to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the losers of the national popular vote. The blatantly political decision to stop the Florida recount launched a new era of anti-social ideologues undermining the rights of real people in favor of corporate special interests in fields ranging from environmental protection to foreign policy, trade relations to criminal justice. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, coming a decade later, is a product of the same elitist mentality: diminish voter’s rights by maximizing the influence of private wealth in elections. On the anniversary of Bush v. Gore, John Nichols of The Nation proposes five practical reforms to increase voter participation. Also this week, the Nigerian government dropped its bribery charges against former VP Dick Cheney and other Halliburton officials after the company agreed to pay $250 million in fines. Halliburton had previously admitted to US authorities that it used bribery when Cheney led the company to gain a $6 billion contract with Nigeria. The background of this telling story of Cheney’s earlier corrupt leadership is at the Link of the Day for December 10, 2010.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Our friend Gene Nichol at UNC Law School has an op-ed column in today’s News & Observer that not only says democracy is under attack by the money-is-speech ideologues on the US Supreme Court; his words (contrary to his everyday deeds) could even lead you to think it’s time to declare total defeat. Indeed, there is a war going on and it can be framed in many ways. In his opposition to the binge tax giveaways for the super-rich, US Senator Bernie Sanders eloquently describes the assault by mega-millionaires on the working and middle class, common-sense regulations, democracy, and the future of America. His must-see speech parallels Nichol’s description of the Supreme Court majority’s determination to “constitutionalize economic privilege.” But “the war” is not over and this is no time to call it quits. Nichol is right, for example, to say the Supremes will likely gut the rescue funds provision in North Carolina’s public campaign financing programs; that provision helps a publicly financed candidate with an extra boost of matching public funds if the opposition’s spending exceeds a certain amount. But even without that provision, public campaign financing can survive in a new form that still provides qualifying candidates with the funds needed to wage a competitive campaign. Existing programs in New York City and elsewhere and the federal Fair Elections Now Act do this by offering extra funds that match the small donations raised by qualifying candidates rather than the money spent by the opposition. So voter-owned public financing is not dead, and neither is the larger effort, now centuries old, to make real the promise of democracy for a progressive society. It’s okay to feel frustrated and beleaguered, and also good to be armed with analysis and vision, because the battles ahead are many.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday, December 10th, 2010

This is a level of corruption that we don’t often see: The new government in Nigeria wants to charge Dick Cheney, the former vice president and chairman of Halliburton, in connection with $180 million in bribes paid to Nigerian lawmakers. The lawmakers awarded a $6 billion construction contract for a natural gas pipeline to Halliburton when Cheney led the company. Those are some big numbers! But consider these: Millionaires paid more than $200 million in bribes – oops, legal campaign contributions – to Members of Congress who are now maneuvering to award them a tax break worth $100 billion a year. And here’s another absolute outrage, a follow-up to the story (Link: 12/8/2010) about the Duke Energy executive in Charlotte, Jim Turner, who resigned in the midst of an embarrassing scandal involving job promises to top regulators overseeing the cost of Duke’s construction project in Indiana. Under pressure from angry citizens in Indiana, Duke has agreed to renegotiate how much it charges utility customers for its construction project. But now it turns out that Duke will pay Turner a $3.8 million severance package, plus a possible half-million-dollar bonus for 2010. So, contrary to being an embarrassment, Duke might as well as say, “Job well done, young man! We agree: screw the public, grow the profits.” The NC Utilities Commission should investigate whether the ratepayers of this regulated monopoly will be stuck with the bill for Turner’s misconduct or will it come out Duke’s shareholder profits. Who is holding corporations accountable for crossing the line? Should we invite the Nigerian government to North Carolina to teach us some lessons? In the post-Citizens United era, when corporations claim enlarged domain over elections, regulators and lawmakers, the public has every right to demand enlarged accountability for every mistake corporations make that affect our public life. Rights come with responsibilities.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday, November 29th, 2010

The Nation Magazine has an important article that connects the rise of massive front-group spending in elections with the decline of the media’s coverage of political campaigns and policy issues. A front group’s distorting message becomes so much more effective when repeated frequently and when the media abandons its job, which is not gotcha journalism but solid political reporting. A responsible media would not just cover the latest polling and financing data, but the substance of what difference it makes whether Candidate A or Candidate B wins. The article is loaded with information about the 2010 election cycle, and exclaims: “The changes taking place in how campaigns are paid for and covered provides the most meaningful explanation for otherwise incomprehensible shifts in our politics.”


Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday, November 5th, 2010

The Institute for Southern Studies has another report on Art Pope’s use of corporate and personal donations to spread lies and depress voter turnout by pumping up the “negatives” of state Democratic candidates. This is how you purchase election outcomes through deceit, but of course it didn’t begin with this election cycle and is not uniquely a Republican strategy. However, the scope of damage a few billionaires can inflict on democracy has dramatically grown with Citizens United and new technologies. Along these lines, NBC News has a report exposing another group bankrolling Karl Rove’s comeback – the Wall Street greed heads who steered the economy into the ditch. These are the patriots protecting America’s culture of family values.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

A quick report by Public Citizen points out the significant role of the unprecedented spending by outside groups in US House and Senate contests on November 2. In 58 of the 74 elections where party control changed, the winning candidate got more support from non-party, outside group(s) than the loser. A press release with the report says, “Winning candidates in elections in which power changed hands were aided by average spending of $764,326 to help their cause while losing candidates were aided by average spending of $273,268, a ratio of nearly 2.8 to 1.”


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

A segment on NPR today exposes a nasty example of public policy for sale to private interests. It turns out that private prison officials, along with a shadowy group nicknamed ALEC, basically wrote Arizona’s controversial new anti-immigration law as a revenue generator; they envisioned special prisons for women and children, among other things. Thirty of the 36 AZ representatives jumping on board to sponsor the legislation received campaign donations from the same prison companies. NPR is also doing an outstanding job of tracking the dominant role of money in this year’s elections; see its site for back stories. A report earlier this week says an estimated $3.5 billion will be pumped into the elections, much of it from a bewildering network of conservative special interest groups traced to two office suites, advised by Karl Rove and funded by Swift Boaters and others. A handy map of these organizations shows just how powerful and well-funded they have become since the Citizens United ruling earlier this year.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Two front-page stories by the Raleigh News & Observer highlight the perspective of the forces dominating this year’s election cycle: make voting for poor people harder and the influence of big-money political donors easier. The first story describes Tea Party supporters in Raleigh harassing Chavis Park voters by writing down their names, asking them questions, challenging their ability to get assistance, etc. The harassers are  following the tactics presented in a training video that a Republican Party official in Pamlico County told the State Board of Elections she helped prepare for the NC Republican Party. Some would say this is an effort to corrupt the election process. Ironically, the other story is about the stepped-up giving by mega-millionaire Art Pope to the Republican cause because he says he doesn’t like political corruption. However, he does like the new freedom the US Supreme Court granted him to use c-4 nonprofits and other vehicles to spread false information about candidates he doesn’t like. So this is the anti-corruption remedy for North Carolina? Chris Fitzsimon of NC Policy Watch gives more details on how these forces will try to undo the momentum in North Carolina for real reform.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Friday, October 8th, 2010

A front group for ultra-conservative Art Pope is jumping into new territory with the encouragement of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. It is using money from Pope’s business to run attack ads against Democratic leaders in the General Assembly. The 501(c)(4) group, called Civitas Action, has the same executive director, office, and dominating financial backer (i.e., Pope) as its 501(c)(3) nonprofit sister, the John W. Pope Civitas Institute. You may recognize that name; it’s the outfit that regularly sponsors polls on partisan issues that the News & Observer publishes as unbiased public opinion surveys. Art Pope and his various conduits are gearing up for considerably more political spending in the final weeks of the election, according to the Civitas director. It’s worth asking: is Pope’s business treating its donation to the (c)(4)/Civitas as a tax-deductible expense; i.e., is it lowering its tax bill while it buys $265,000 worth of “education” – for a net cost of less than $175,000?


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