We live is a present day society where big business/corporate America controls. No longer are we a government of the people, by the people, for the people. We have been transformed into a government by the rich, for the rich.
How did we get into this situation? What has caused power to be shifted to the rich?
The answer is three-fold. It begins with the Federalist Society, moves then to Citizens United, and ends with New Jersey’s Senator Menendez.
I attended law school in the late 1950s. We were taught that the Constitution was a wondrous document because it accommodated itself to the times. It was pliable enough to meet current day needs and problems. Without altering the Constitution’s written words.
A group of conservative Republicans recognized that change had to take place. The Supreme Court’s interpretations were liberal from their perspective. Conservatism had a limited place in decisions.
The time, 1982. A group of unknown conservatives came together whose purpose was to change Supreme Court rulings. These men were backed by corporate America and the rich who felt they were not getting a square deal.
They were unknown in 1982. Today, they are recognized as giants in the conservative movement. Men such as Edwin Meese, Robert Bork, and Steven Calabresi. Soon thereafter to be joined by conservative stalwarts such as Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, John Ashcroft, Orrin Hatch, and Kenneth Starr.
The movement began at three high-ranking law schools. Harvard, Yale and Chicago. Antonin Scalia was one of the original faculty advisers when the Federalist Society was being formed.
The Federalist Society was a group of conservatives and libertarians who sought to reform the American legal system. It was to be done by interpreting the Constitution differently than it had for over 200 years. Interpretation was to be a textualist/originalists one.
States rights were to receive precedence over national rights. Since the end of the Civil War, the Constitution had been interpreted as giving power to the federal government as opposed to the states. The Federalist Society advocated moving power to the States. By doing so, conservative views would come to the forefront in cases involving the Second Amendment, campaign finance regulation, state sovereignty, and commerce clause issues.
In some 20 years, the Federalist Society has accomplished its goals. It did so by first encouraging law students to become members and think as Federalists. Then by moving Federalists up the political and government ladders rapidly.
The Federalist Society has changed the brand of the Supreme Court to conservative. It has enabled corporations and the rich to control Congress and influence the Court. It has encouraged the means whereby corporations and the rich can contribute millions of dollars to a campaign.
Money has become the influence in all chambers of government. No longer is it right over might.
During the time the Federalist Society was growing in influence and power, the Supreme Court evolved into a conservative body. The ratio generally being 5-4.
The Supreme Court decided Citizens United v. FEC in 2010. A revolutionary decision. The Court ruled corporations were people and that laws should not be passed limiting their right to make contributions. The Court reasoned that everyone had a right to free speech. Just because corporations had more money was no reason to inhibit their right to participate in the democratic process via financial giving.
Citizens United involved political expenditures by non profit corporations. It subsequently was extended to include for profit corporations, labor unions, and other associations.
Interestingly, the case involved a video critical of Hillary Clinton.
The Court in Citizens United felt limitations on corporate contributions banned free speech. That corporations and organizations had the right to use their treasury funds for advocacy purposes.
The Court was of the opinion that such contributions would not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. What a joke! The Court was effectively saying that multi million dollar contributions by one corporation or rich person would not influence the decision of the person receiving it. Respectfully, a crock! Human nature unfortunately does not work that way. Money talks!
The 2012 Presidential race began the expose of the folly of the Court’s thinking. Newt Gingrich had a friend/supporter in Sheldon Adelson. The same Sheldon Adelson I mentioned in my Tom Cotton article two weeks ago. Adelson contributed $15 million to Gingrich’s primary race. Wyoming financier Foster Fries donated just under $2 million to former Senator Santorum’s Super PACs.
Neither Gingrich nor Santorum would have been able to stay in the primary race as long as they did without such big dollar support.
Senator Mitch McConnell is Majority Leader in the Senate. In 2010 when he was Minority leader, he said that Citizens United struck a blow for the First Amendment. I thought the decision struck a blow against the First Amendment. McConnell is almost as old as I am. I do not know what law school he went to. Apparently one that taught the rich should have power over the poor.
Citizens United immediately increased the number of Washington lobbyists. They are the people who tell Congress persons how to vote and draft legislation. .
Many said at the time of the Citizens United decision that it opened the door to political bribery and corruption in future elections.
One of the few Republicans who saw through the smoke was John McCain. He said he was disappointed by the decision which lifted limits on corporate and union contributions. He further indicated that over time there would be a severe backlash to the decision.
Permit me to portray the evil which can develop. A lobbyist suggests to a Congressman that if he votes wrong, corporations and the rich will spend unlimited amounts in the next election to beat that Congressman.
Another major evil of Citizens United is the secrecy involved with donations. Money goes through two sets of hands before it is put to use on behalf of a candidate. It is in a sense legitimate money laundering. Voters never get to know who donated what and in how much to a candidate.
Now comes Senator Robert Menendez. A Democrat who has represented the State of New Jersey since 2006. A man of influence. He chaired the Foreign Relations Committee for two years.
Menendez ran for reelection in 2012. He won.
Menendez had a doctor friend in Florida. Let me put It another way, the Senator claims the doctor was his friend. The doctor was under investigation for $9 million of Medicare over billings. He contributed $600,000 to Menendez’s campaign through a PAC. In addition, the doctor provided Menendez with a private jet for the Senator’s world wide trips and paid for his vacations at island getaways.
Menendez was indicted on federal corruption charges on April 1, 2015. The doctor was also indicted.
Menendez claims he was only doing favors for a friend, that the $600 thousand, private jets, and island vacations did not influence him.
I am compelled to return to the Citizens United decision. Therein the Court said that bought influence and paid for access were not corruption standing alone. The Court’s words, not mine.
What do you think?
A final observation. Citizens United is going to be with us for at least 20 years. Subsequent decisions may eat away at it. None will totally eliminate the decision. A liberal court is needed to overcome Citizens United. That means a Democratic President till the turnabout takes place. I suspect a Democratic President will be required in 2016. Otherwise, complain not when it hits you that our government has slid into the hands of corporations and the rich.
The government claims Menendez exerted influence on behalf of the doctor re the $9 million of Medicare over billings at the time the $600 thousand in contributions were made. It is claimed also the doctor had girl friends in other countries and that he leaned on Menendez to help him obtain visas for them.
One has to be blind not to see the error in the Citizen United decision. The basic freedom to select your elected representatives is at stake. Not a Republican or Democratic thing. A basic American one.