Tag Archive for money in politics

WTP: “…as slippery an organization as one finds in modern politics.”

Everything has a price - but should it?In a ruling on Friday, December 30th, the Montana Supreme Court issued a rebuke against Citizens United that leaves most “human persons” loudly cheering.  Citizens United refers to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2010  wherein the activist Roberts’ Court decreed corporations had constitutional rights to directly spend money on ‘independent expenditures’ in campaigns.  That ruling effectively codified a doctrine of “corporate personhood.”

The 80-page Montana ruling against a suit brought by Western Tradition Partnership attacked the thinking behind the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, the impact of big money in political culture, and the premise that corporations deserve the same political speech rights as citizens.

The Montana Court’s ruling asserted that the Citizens United decision did not remove all bans on corporate speech. “The Supreme Court held that laws that burden political speech are subject to strict scrutiny, which requires the government to prove that the law furthers a compelling state interest and is narrowly tailored to that interest,” the court said.  The ruling details the history of 1912 state law banning direct corporate spending on electoral campaigns and provides explanations of sufficiently compelling state interests to merit sustaining the century-old law.

“Organizations like WTP that act as a conduit for anonymously spending by others represent a threat to the political marketplace,” wrote Mike McGrath, Chief Justice of the Montana Supreme Court, for the majority. “Clearly the impact of unlimited corporate donations creates a dominating impact on the political process and inevitably minimizes the impact of individual citizens.”

Steven Rosenfeld, in reporting on the ruling, stated “the lead group that sued to overturn the Montana ban on direct corporate spending in campaigns followed a very deliberate course of clashing with virtually every aspect of Montana campaign finance law. The lawyers behind the litigation believe that they should face no limits or accountability for any political fund-raising or spending.”

The court noted that Western Tradition Partnership’s lawyers claimed that it should be allowed to spend freely because the group would have to disclose that activity under Montana law when the same group, using another name, actually had sued the state to overturn those very disclosure laws.  WTP is also involved in a third suit challenging the state’s campaign spending disclosure law.

Rosenfeld’s description of Western Tradition Partnership (now known as American Tradition Partnership) as a political organization that  is “as slippery an organization as one finds in modern politics” leaves no doubt about its ethics and modus operandi and is solidly supported by its history, practices and assertions.

Western Tradition Partnership sued to overturn the 1912 Montana Corrupt Practices Act, an irony not lost on those who have experienced the corrupt political practices of the organization up close and personal.  WTP first surfaced in Longmont, Colorado, when it frivolously sued the city over its Fair Campaign Practices Act, represented by Scott Gessler, now Colorado’s Secretary of State.  In Longmont’s 2009 election, WTP was responsible for abhorrent political practices that it had debuted in Montana and for which it was held responsible by the Montana Political Practices Commission.  WTP returned again in the 2011 election to once again elect council members who would advance their agenda.

The Montana Supreme Court’s ruling quoted a fund-raising brochure that said, “If you decide to support this program, no politician, no bureaucrat, and no radical environmentalist will ever know you made this program possible.”  A visit to its website will reveal the hatred for all things environmental (“Gang Green”) and the absolutism in the advancement of extraction industry property rights.  The organization’s Executive Director and website writer Donald aka Donny Ferguson has never met a lie he didn’t love.  If the only information you had available was that which is presented on www.americantradition.org, you would have perceptions that have no bearing whatsoever on reality.

“We take note that Western Tradition appears to be engaged in a multi-front attack on both contribution restrictions and the transparency that accompanies campaign disclosure requirements,” the Court said.  Its previous attorney of record, Gessler, is now engaged in a multi-front attack on contribution restrictions and transparency from his position as Colorado’s Secretary of State.

The court added in a footnote that the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices called the group a “sham” because it failed to register with the state, and refused to disclose the sources of its funds or its spending—as required by law.

Even the dissenting opinion lambasted the Citizens United ruling notwithstanding its contention that the Montana Court was bound by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.

Justice James C. Nelson wrote, “And, to be absolutely clear, I do not agree with it [Citizens United]. For starters, the notion that corporations are disadvantaged in the political realm is unbelievable. Indeed, it has astounded most Americans. The truth is that corporations wield enormous power in Congress and in state legislatures. It is hard to tell where government ends and corporate America begins: the transition is seamless and overlapping.”

“In the real world of politics,” he wrote, “the “quid pro quo” of both direct contributions to candidates and independent expenditures on their behalf is loyalty. And, in practical effect, experience teaches us that money corrupts, and enough of it corrupts absolutely.”

In assaulting the very notion of corporate personhood, Nelson stated, “I find the concept entirely offensive. Corporations are artificial creatures of law. As such, they should enjoy only those powers—not constitutional rights, but legislatively-conferred powers—that are concomitant with their legitimate function, that being limited liability investment vehicles for business. Corporations are not persons. Human beings are persons, and it is an affront to the inviolable dignity of our species that courts have created a legal fiction which forces people—human beings—to share fundamental natural rights with soulless creations of government. Worse still, while corporations and human beings share many of the same rights under the law, they clearly are not bound equally to the same codes of good conduct, decency, and morality, and they are not held equally accountable for their sins. Indeed, it is truly ironic that the death penalty and hell are reserved only to natural persons.”

American Tradition Partnership says that it is a “no-compromise” organization.  And for once it has told the truth.  It is likely to appeal this ruling all the way back to the U.S. Supreme Court.  We can only hope that if that happens, the Supreme Court will have second thoughts about their disastrous ruling in Citizens United.

That’s with a “B”

Someone is making a helluva lot of money and more someones expect to make even more. And it ain’t you.

The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) estimates that $4 Billion Dollars – that’s with a “B” – will be spent on the 2010 midterm elections. The 1998 mid-tern election cost $1.61 billion. The 2002 election cost $2.18 billion and the 2006 federal midterm election cost $2.85 billion.

The 2000 Bush v Gore presidential election cycle, at $3.1 billion, cost less than the projection for this year’s mid-term. The 2004 presidential election cycle was tallied at $4.14 billion, slightly more than what CRP is predicting for the 2010 midterm cycle. However, the 2008 presidential election cycle still remains the most expensive in history at nearly $5.3 billion.

Money is flowing in from a variety of sources, from contributions of under $200 from committed individuals to multi-million dollar contributions from special interests.

The Center’s findings “are largely based on fund-raising data reported to the Federal Election Commission into this month by all candidates for federal office, party committees, political action committees and federally focused 527 committees. [Their] estimate also includes independent expenditures on advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts by outside political action committees and other organizations to support and oppose candidates.”

As reported on the Center’s Open Secrets.org, many of these funding entities “play a game of hide and seek,” skirting disclosure by “hiding their funders behind the iron curtain that is their tax exempt status.”

CRP reports that, “These tax-exempt groups are registered with the IRS as 501(c)(4), 501(c)(5) or 501(c)(6) entities. By law, they are prohibited from having a ‘primary purpose’ of engaging in politics. Nevertheless, a number of these groups are this election cycle spending seven- or eight-figure amounts on political messaging at the federal level.”

According to Open Secrets.org, “Identifiably conservative organizations are spending more than $2 on advertisements and other communications for every $1 liberal organizations do. While corporations are behind much of this money, many of these companies have skirted public scrutiny by laundering their cash through intermediary organizations, which often sport nondescript names and don’t immediately, if ever, reveal who funds them.”

But who contributes to them? By law, these organizations are not required to disclose their donors. In some cases, the funders’ identities are required to be reported to the IRS, but that’s as far as it goes. The IRS may know, but we won’t.

The bottom line is that the public cannot know; it can only surmise. Regulations prohibit these tax-exempt organizations from specifically saying “vote for” or “vote against.” However, you will recognize them by the message that has their dander up and their requests to call a specific candidate and demand that he or she change positions on the issue or action that has them all riled up.

This money floods the TV and radio airways and mailboxes with political messages that advance the agenda of the organization.

The more visible organizations are political action committees or IRS-designated 527 organizations , often called “super PACs.” To some degree, these political vehicles report donor information to either the Federal Election Commission or Internal Revenue Service.

Any port in a storm…

Even more worth noting than the huge sums of money being spent in this year’s election, unleashed by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, is how the money has been spent throughout this two-year cycle.

CRP reports that, “As Democrat Barack Obama entered the White House in January 2009, people and political action committees associated with the health sector that month donated about two-thirds of their federal-level contributions to his partisan brethren. The sector continued to favor Democrats for most of the year.”

Just as Democrat-led health care reform legislation began to near final passage, the trend flipped . “In each month since, health interests have donated more money to federal-level Republican candidates and committees. And in September, a preliminary analysis of campaign finance filings by the Center indicates that the health sector donated more than 60 percent of its political money to the GOP – by far, the greatest percentage of the 2010 election cycle.”

“The change of fortune in 2010 is stark. During no single month this year have Democrats received a greater percentage of campaign cash from either the broad health or finance, insurance and real estate sectors.”

“An even more extreme example of a shift away from Democrats comes from the energy sector, which in January 2009 fueled Democrats with 56 percent of its federal-level political contributions. By September, preliminary numbers indicate Republicans benefitted from 74 percent of the sector’s cash.”

These flip-flops are not accidental or capricious. These industries – healthcare, finance, energy – were using their money to shape the legislation as much to their liking as they could. However, they never intended to support the Democrats’ intentions to protect the public, the consumer and the environment. When push came to shove, they went where they always go — to Republicans.

Pimps and whores…

Until the influence of money is removed from our elections, the United States will never truly serve the needs of “the people.” Corporate money does what it always has done. It persuades the public to “buy” what it wants bought. It buys power and that power writes legislation and regulation. Sooner or later, Americans will demand that their government represent them and not corporations. The only question is: Will that happen in time to preserve the nation for its citizens, not “Citizens United”?