Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Ruling expected today to let corporations invest in politicians
By Greg Palast | for AlterNet
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I thought that headline would get your attention. And it's true.
I'm biting my nails waiting for the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which could come down as early as today. At issue: whether corporations, as "unnatural persons," can make contributions to political campaigns.
The outcome is foregone: the six GOP appointees to the court are expected to use the case to junk federal laws that now bar corporations from stuffing campaign coffers.
Vote: Should Sarah Palin be allowed to keep money from Al Qaeda Inc.?
Listen to Palast talking about corporate campaign contributions
Technically, there's a narrower matter before the court in this case: whether the McCain-Feingold Act may prohibit corporations from funding "independent" campaign advertisements such as the "Swift Boat" ads that smeared John Kerry. However, campaign finance reformers are steeling themselves for the court's right wing to go much further, knocking down all longstanding rules against donations by corporate treasuries.
Allowing company campaign spending will not, as progressives fear, cause an avalanche of corporate cash into politics. Sadly, that's already happened: we have been snowed under by tens of millions of dollars given through corporate PACs and "bundling" of individual contributions from corporate pay-rollers.
The court's expected decision is far, far more dangerous to U.S. democracy. Think: Manchurian candidates.
I'm losing sleep over the millions — or billions — of dollars that could flood into our elections from ARAMCO, the Saudi Oil corporation's U.S. unit; or from the maker of "New Order" fashions, the Chinese People's Liberation Army. Or from Bin Laden Construction corporation. Or Bin Laden Destruction Corporation.
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Right now, corporations can give loads of loot through PACs. While this money stinks (Barack Obama took none of it), anyone can go through a PAC's federal disclosure filing and see the name of every individual who put money into it. And every contributor must be a citizen of the USA.
But, if the Supreme Court rules that corporations can support candidates without limit, there is nothing that stops, say, a Delaware-incorporated handmaiden of the Burmese junta from picking a Congressman or two with a cache of loot masked by a corporate alias.
Candidate Barack Obama was one sharp speaker, but he would not have been heard, and certainly would not have won, without the astonishing outpouring of donations from two million Americans. It was an unprecedented uprising-by-PayPal, overwhelming the old fat-cat sources of funding.
Well, kiss that small-donor revolution goodbye. If the Supreme Court votes as expected, progressive list serves won't stand a chance against the resources of new "citizens" such as CNOOC, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation. Maybe UBS (United Bank of Switzerland), which faces U.S. criminal prosecution and a billion-dollar fine for fraud, might be tempted to invest in a few Senate seats. As would XYZ Corporation, whose owners remain hidden by "street names."
George Bush's former Solicitor General Ted Olson argued the case to the court on behalf of Citizens United, a corporate front that funded an attack on Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primary. Olson's wife died on September 11, 2001 on the hijacked airliner that hit the Pentagon. Maybe it was a bit crude of me, but I contacted Olson's office to ask how much "Al Qaeda, Inc." should be allowed to donate to support the election of his local congressman.
Olson has not responded.
The danger of foreign loot loading into U.S. campaigns, not much noted in the media chat about the Citizens case, was the first concern raised by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who asked about opening the door to "mega-corporations" owned by foreign governments. Olson offered Ginsburg a fudge, that Congress might be able to prohibit foreign corporations from making donations, though Olson made clear he thought any such restriction a bad idea.
Tara Malloy, attorney with the Campaign Legal Center of Washington D.C., is biting her nails awaiting the decision. If Olson gets his way, she told me, corporations will have more rights than people. Only United States citizens may donate or influence campaigns, but a foreign government can, veiled behind a corporate treasury, dump money into ballot battles.
Malloy also noted that under the law today, human-people, as opposed to corporate-people, may only give $2,300 to a presidential campaign. But hedge fund billionaires, for example, who typically operate through dozens of corporate vessels, could, should Olson prevail, give unlimited sums through each of these "unnatural" creatures.
And once the Taliban incorporates in Delaware, they could ante up for the best democracy money can buy.
In July, the Chinese government, in preparation for President Obama's visit, held diplomatic discussions in which they skirted issues of human rights and Tibet. Notably, the Chinese, who hold a $2 trillion mortgage on our Treasury, raised concerns about the cost of Obama's health care reform bill. Would our nervous Chinese landlords have an interest in buying the White House for an opponent of government spending such as Gov. Palin? Ya betcha!
The potential for foreign infiltration of what remains of our democracy is an adjunct of the fact that the source and control money from corporate treasuries (unlike registered PACs), is necessarily hidden. Who the heck are the real stockholders? Or as Butch asked Sundance, "Who are these guys?"
We'll never know.
Hidden money funding, whether foreign or domestic, is the new venom that the court could inject into the system by an expansive decision in Citizens United.
We've been there. The 1994 election brought Newt Gingrich to power in a GOP takeover of the Congress funded by a very strange source.
Congressional investigators found that in crucial swing races, Democrats had fallen victim to a flood of last-minute attack ads funded by a group called, "Coalition for Our Children's Future." The $25 million that paid for those ads came, not from concerned parents, but from a corporation called "Triad Inc."
Evidence suggests Triad Inc. was the front for the ultra-right-wing billionaire Koch Brothers and their private petroleum company, Koch Industries. Had the corporate connection been proven, the Kochs and their corporation could have faced indictment under federal election law. If the Supreme Court now decides in favor of unlimited corporate electioneering, then such money-poisoned politicking would become legit.
So it's not just un-Americans we need to fear but the Polluter-Americans, Pharma-mericans, Bank-Americans and Hedge-Americans that could manipulate campaigns while hidden behind corporate veils. And if so, our future elections, while nominally a contest between Republicans and Democrats, may in fact come down to a three-way battle between China, Saudi Arabia and Goldman Sachs.
Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." Palast investigated Triad Inc. for The Guardian (UK). View Palast's reports for BBC TV and Democracy Now! at www.gregpalast.com.