Montana's Corporations Are Now People. What's Next?

Today's sharply divided Supreme Court decision striking down a 100-year old law in Montana prohibiting corporate contributions to campaigns was disappointing, but entirely expected. As long as the composition of the Court includes ideologues

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Today's sharply divided Supreme Court decision striking down a 100-year old law in Montana prohibiting corporate contributions to campaigns was disappointing, but entirely expected. As long as the composition of the Court includes ideologues like Scalia and Roberts, there won't be any movement on that front.

That leaves most of us with a bitter taste, especially unions, who just saw their ability to challenge corporate voices left partly mute with the also-divided decision in Knox vs. SEIU.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney hunkered down with his treasured billionaires, including Bain Capital buddies, at a resort in Utah, while the Koch clan plotted their strategies near San Diego. It's a fact: Democrats will be outspent 3-1 in 2012, and the only option we have is to neutralize the ad campaigns with activism and information.

To that end, I appreciate the campaign speeches President Obama is giving where he ridicules the "scary voice" ads and reminds everyone that with unlimited corporate spending, the money behind the voice shouldn't be taken lightly. It's a way to neutralize the onslaught, but really I think people should just turn off the TV until November 7th. Maybe turn off their phones, too, since robocalls are part of the overall strategy.

Citizens United may have unleashed the demons of unlimited corporate spending, but it didn't slam the door on disclosure, which is where states may be able to trump the secret, if not the spending.

The Nation reports on a movement afoot in the states to fight back against corporate personhood.

Legislators have clearly reached their own conclusion that there is an “appearance of corruption.” Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have joined Montana in asking the Supreme Court to uphold the state’s ban on corporate expenditures. This coalition is a mix of red, blue, and purple states, including New York, Arkansas, California, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia. Senators John McCain and Sheldon Whitehouse also filed an amicus brief in support of Montana,writing, “Evidence from the 2010 and 2012 electoral cycles has demonstrated that so-called independent expenditures create a strong potential for corruption and the perception thereof.”

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court quashed all of their requests when it summarily reversed the Montana law without even hearing arguments, but that doesn't change the fundamental objection: Money corrupts politics.

However, there is a tiny peephole through which some sunlight can be seen, assuming states have the will to force the issue. While Citizens United threw open the door to corporate ownership of elections, it didn't slam it on disclosure of those campaign contributions. Unfortunately, our disclosure system right now is a combination of old and older technology, and very little of it in real time. Further, many of the billionaires are giving to tax-exempt organizations that don't disclose for as much as 18-20 months after they've given (and the organizations have spent) the money.

The only answer I see to the dilemma is to push for full, real-time disclosure of political contributions in amounts over $1,000.00 or so, and to do it on a state level, given the current gridlock in the US Congress. If we have to put up with the barrage of negativity, we should at least know who is paying for it and what they want as the quid pro quo.

Barring that, the Obama campaign's decision to aggressively challenge Crossroads GPS' standing as a 501(c)(4) organization is the only other strategy left. The video at the top outlines their challenge. If it were to stand, it wouldn't preclude corporations from giving to Crossroads' 501(c)(4) organization, but it would shine a light on who is doing the giving.

Ultimately, the money game is intended to suppress enthusiasm for voting, which is part of the multipronged voter suppression strategy Republicans are deploying in this cycle. Given that they have a weak candidate and an unenthusiastic base, the best they can hope for is to try and control the narrative by throwing down as much money as possible in an effort to send the message that it's really hopeless to counter them. It's a power play, pure and simple.

As I wrote in my post on education reform last week, these people do not give from the goodness of their hearts. As they confirmed in their published minutes of a brainstorming meeting, they give for the sole purpose of the quid pro quo. They give to get, and no one gives more and expects to get more than Sheldon Adelson. Via the New York Times:

One man cannot spend enough to ensure the election of an unpopular candidate, as Mr. Gingrich’s collapse showed, but he can buy enough ads to help push a candidate over the top in a close race like this year’s. Given that Mr. Romney was not his first choice, why is Mr. Adelson writing these huge checks?

Stay tuned for Adelson's quid pro quo expectation:

The first answer is clearly his disgust for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, supported by President Obama and most Israelis. He considers a Palestinian state “a steppingstone for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people,” and has called the Palestinian prime minister a terrorist. He is even further to the right than the main pro-Israeli lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which he broke with in 2007 when it supported economic aid to the Palestinians.

Mr. Romney is only slightly better, saying the Israelis want a two-state solution but the Palestinians do not, accusing them of wanting to eliminate Israel. The eight-figure checks are not paying for a more enlightened answer.

Mr. Adelson’s other overriding interest is his own wallet. He rails against the president’s “socialist-style economy” and redistribution of wealth, but what he really fears is Mr. Obama’s proposal to raise taxes on companies like his that make a huge amount of money overseas. Ninety percent of the earnings of his company, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, come from hotel and casino properties in Singapore and Macau. (The latter is located, by the way, in China, a socialist country the last time we checked.)

This is Mr. Adelson's wish list. We could go down a list of Romney's major donors and identify theirs as well, but ultimately what will decide whether we allow money to buy elections will be what we do to counter it, and the only way to counter it is to get outside, talk to neighbors, volunteer to register voters, and change the conversation from the "scary voices" to a resolve for change.

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