“Bob radiated a passion for justice, and with joyful fervor he inspired everyone around him to share his belief in, and commitment to working for, a more democratic and just society. Through a long and varied career, Bob took on many roles and causes – but all of the chapters in his remarkable life were connected by his essential decency, kindness and compassion.” Bob Edgar, former Congressman, campaign finance activist, and president of Common Cause, 1943-2013.
Megg at Quiddity uncovers a keen historical reproduction of the time Theodore Roosevelt fought Bigfoot. (Actually, kids, this is really just a metaphorical representation of TR’s 1910 Oswatomie speech quoted above — unlike the time Abe and Iorek Byrnison brought forth the Emancipation Proclamation. That actually happened.)
Come Senators, Congressmen, please heed the call: In a decent companion piece to James Fallows’ foray on the subject earlier this year, The New Yorker‘s George Packer tries to figure out what the hell is wrong with the Senate. And one of the best answers is buried in the middle of the piece: “Nothing dominates the life of a senator more than raising money. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat, said, ‘Of any free time you have, I would say fifty per cent, maybe even more,” is spent on fund-raising.’“
The other big and much-needed solution: Filibuster reform. But with a handful of Democratic Senators already balking at the idea, that’ll be a tough climb this coming January, and no mistake. Nonetheless, it is very much a fight worth having. “[O]ver the past few decades the reflex has grown in the Senate that, all things considered, it’s better to avoid than to take on big issues. This is the kind of thing that drives Michael Bennet nutty: here you’ve arrived in the United States Senate and you can’t do fuck-all about the destruction of the planet.“
“The SpeechNow decision effectively widens the field of organizations that can raise and spend money on politics more freely in light of the Citizens United decision, which swept aside decades of legislative restrictions on the role of corporations in political campaigns.“
The disaster on the Gulf isn’t the only gusher to worry about. Relying almost exclusively on Citizens United for their reasoning, the three-judge DC Court of Appeals struck down limits on individual contributions to advocacy groups last March, paving the way for even more cold hard cash overflowing the system. [FEC overview.] “The D.C. Circuit’s ruling was the first to apply and significantly expand [Citizens United], which invalidated limits on corporate expenditures in federal campaigns.“
I had heard very ominous rumblings about this hearing in the days after CU, but somehow missed that the actual decision had been handed down (Working as intended: It was dumped on a Friday) and only caught it on account of yesterday’s injunction. (Weirdly, there was no press release from CREW, Common Cause, or Public Citizen either, although PIRG was on the case.) The FEC does seem to be looking toward a Supreme Court appeal…but it’s hard to see that turning out very well, is it?
Well, that’s the trick, isn’t it? Particularly that she’ll be replacing the irreplaceable John Paul Stevens. In any case, President Obama has made his second pick for the Supreme Court, and it is his Solicitor General and former Harvard Law Dean Elena Kagan. “As solicitor general, Ms. Kagan has represented the government before the Supreme Court for the past year, but her own views are to a large extent a matter of supposition.“
Making the progressive case for Kagan: Larry Lessig, an old friend of hers: “The Kagan I know is a progressive…[T]he core of Kagan’s experience over the past two decades has been all about moving people of different beliefs to the position she believes is correct. Not by compromise, or caving, but by insight and strength. I’ve seen her flip the other side.” Lessig expounds on this coalition-builder argument here: “To hear the liberals talk about it, it sounds like they think we need a Thomas or Scalia of the Left…But nobody who understands the actual dynamics of the Supreme Court could actually believe that such a strategy would produce 5 votes.” (To which one must ask, really? Who’s gonna flip?)
Making the progressive case against Kagan: Salon‘s Glenn Greenwald: “[G]iven that there are so many excellent candidates who have a long, clear commitment to a progressive judicial philosophy, why would Obama possibly select someone who — at best — is a huge question mark?…I believe Kagan’s absolute silence over the past decade on the most intense Constitutional controversies speaks very poorly of her.” This was a follow-up from another piece, where he argued: “Kagan, from her time at Harvard, is renowned for accommodating and incorporating conservative views, the kind of ‘post-ideological’ attribute Obama finds so attractive.” Interestingly, this last part seems much the same argument Lessig’s making in her favor, with the valence changed.
(As an aside, this feud got a bit heated, with Greenwald deeming Lessig a liar and stooge. Having been on the wrong end of Greenwald’s wrath myself on the Citizens United case, Lessig’s rebuttal to this charge sounded all-too familiar: “Chill, Glenn. Dial down the outrage. Dial back the hyperbole. And stop calling those who applaud you liars…[Y]ou can make your point well enough without painting everyone else as liars or constitutional crazies.” True story.)
Anyway, speaking of Citizens United, since the President has explicitly said that decision is lousy law several times over, I presume he’s made sure Kagan is in agreement on that front. (He has, right?) And, as I said back during John Roberts’ nomination, my feeling is generally the president’s prerogative in choosing Supreme Court justices should be respected. (Can’t countenance Roberts’ lying, tho’.) So, if Kagan’s the president’s choice, I’m prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt and support the nomination.
But, quite frankly, I shouldn’t have to doubt (and here, the next two links are via Greenwald.) As the NYT editorial page well put it: “President Obama may know that his new nominee to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, shares his thinking on the multitude of issues that face the court and the nation, but the public knows nothing of the kind. Whether by ambitious design or by habit of mind, Ms. Kagan has spent decades carefully husbanding her thoughts and shielding her philosophy from view.“
So, sure, I guess it’s entirely possible Kagan is a secret superprogressive of the Leonard Cohen type. (“They sentenced me to 20 years of boredom, for trying to change the system from within.“) But there’s another explanation that’s more likely. And, loath as I am to agree with David Brooks, his column today echoes almost exactly what I was thinking:
“Kagan has apparently wanted to be a judge or justice since adolescence (she posed in judicial robes for her high school yearbook.) There was a brief period, in her early 20s, when she expressed opinions on legal and political matters. But that seems to have ended pretty quickly. She has become a legal scholar without the interest scholars normally have in the contest of ideas. She’s shown relatively little interest in coming up with new theories or influencing public debate. Her publication record is scant and carefully nonideological…What we have is a person whose career has dovetailed with the incentives presented by the confirmation system, a system that punishes creativity and rewards caginess.“
That’s my rub too, and it dovetails with larger problems I have with DC political culture. More often than not, the people who tend to succeed here are the ones who keep their head down, play the DC game, stay resolutely non-ideological and unobtrusive in their opinions. never go out on a limb, never say or do anything that could hurt their bid to be a Big (or Bigger) Shot down the road. (Hence, the whole phenomenon of The Village.)The problem is, these plodding, risk-averse careerist types are exactly the type of people you don’t want making decisions in the end, because they will invariably lead to the plodding, risk-averse and too-often rudderless politics of the lowest common denominator.
I’m really hoping the future Justice Kagan isn’t another example of this troubling trend, because as I said when Stevens retired: “The Court needs a strong and unabashed liberal conscience right now. What it emphatically does not need is another centrist technocrat that will help push the Court ever further to the right” But, as Kurt Vonnegut put it in Mother Night, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” And when someone spends decades being so careful and circumspect in the face of so many obvious injustices, both by recent administrations and in the world at large…well, I really have to wonder about their judgment.
Expected it may be, but this is not good news. The President is saying all the right things about picking a Justice who will uphold campaign finance laws in the wake of the Citizens United disaster. But, as the pathetic recent capitulation on Dawn Johnsen showed once more, this White House too often shrinks from a necessary fight in the name of an elusive “bipartisanship” that, quite frankly, does not exist.
With Stevens gone and the fearsome foursome of Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia still roaming the chambers, the Court needs a strong and unabashed liberal conscience right now. What it emphatically does not need is another centrist technocrat that will help push the Court ever further to the right. The ball’s in your court, Mr. President — It’s time to show more of the progressive gumption we voted you in office to provide.
“When the Chief Judge joined in the argument about the continuing vitality of the corruption rationale for campaign finance restraints, he flatly accused Kolker of evading the Citizens United ruling. “I’m not hearing you address Citizens United,” Sentelle said. And Judge Thomas B. Griffith chimed in: “You’re trying to avoid Citizens United. This is a new world: corruption means a lot less than it did before.’”Hey, you said it, Judge. According to the good folks at SCOTUSblog, the doors to unfettered campaign cash are open in a big way in the minds of the DC District Court after Citizens United: “From the opening moment of the 65-minute hearing, most of the nine judges on the en banc Court treated the Supreme Court’s ruling…as the beginning, not the end, of expansion of those freedoms. When an FEC lawyer tried to bring up, and rely on, older precedents, he was reminded repeatedly that those came before Citizens United.“
President Obama’s stern words about the decision in his State of the Union address may have induced Justice Alito to expose himself as a partisan hack, but it seems, alas, that the Justice and his four conservative contemporaries will have the last laugh.
“The Chamber spent much of its money in 2009 on campaigns that worked — it scared the Senate away from considering a version of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation, and an argument can be made that its cutting ads on health care (with money taken from some insurance companies) helped to undercut support for the legislation.” You think? In a shape-of-things-to-come moment even before Citizens United goes into effect, the Chamber of Commerce outspent both political parties in 2009.
“According to The Center for Responsive Politics, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its national subsidiaries spent $144.5 million in 2009, far more than the RNC and more than double the expenditures by the DNC.” But corporate spending isn’t a problem or anything.
“In a new national poll, 65 percent of Americans say they disagree with the 5-to-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision to allow corporations to spend without limits on ads in political campaigns.” And yet hope remains while the company is true: A new poll finds Americans across the board are unhappy with the court’s ruling in Citizens United.
“The Reid poll found little difference in partisan attitudes…Sixty-six percent of Democrats either “moderately” or “strongly” disagreed with the ruling, but so did 63 percent of Republicans. A whopping 72 percent of Independents disagreed with the Supremes’ decision.” One wonders how those numbers might’ve moved if we started using Citizen United’s full name to discuss this case…
“Debate on the question of money and politics has been percolating within the ACLU for years, long before the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Citizens United. ‘It is difficult to think of an issue that has generated more internal controversy,’ an internal ACLU memo states.“
To its credit and as a result of the Citizens United decision (which the organization has previously lawyered and lobbied for), the ACLU convenes a weekend summit to discuss its campaign finance reform position. “‘The ACLU’s version of democracy is from the ground-up,’ one civil rights lawyer, David Gans, told the ACLU’s board, which was assembled downtown at One New York Plaza. ‘Now Exxon Mobil can spend 2% of its money and blow that all up.’“
Here’s hoping the reformers win the day — or walk out CIO-style if they don’t. Imho, the stance that unlimited corporate funding of our elections is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment has always been the Achilles’ heel of an otherwise superb organization. I’m not a lawyer, but as far as I can tell, their reasoning relies on two unfortunate bugs in the legal code — corporate personhood and the conflation of money with speech — that they too often deem fundamental First Amendment principles. I would argue they’re not.
For why the former — corporate personhood — has obvious problems, just read Justice Stevens’ dissent from Thursday:
“The basic premise underlying the Court’s ruling is its iteration, and constant reiteration, of the proposition that the First Amendment bars regulatory distinctions based on a speaker’s identity, including its ‘identity; as a corporation. While that glittering generality has rhetorical appeal, it is not a correct statement of the law….
Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure,and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process. Our lawmakers have a compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races.”
For the latter — the ruinous conflation of money and speech in Buckley v. Valeo — check out Stevens’ concurrence in Nixon v. Shrink Government Pact (2000), where he says how he’d come down if Buckley were reopened:
“In response to [Justice Kennedy's] call for a new beginning, therefore, I make one simple point. Money is property; it is not speech.
Speech has the power to inspire volunteers to perform a multitude of tasks on a campaign trail, on a battleground, or even on a football field. Money, meanwhile, has the power to pay hired laborers to perform the same tasks. It does not follow, however, that the First Amendment provides the same measure of protection to the use of money to accomplish such goals as it provides to the use of ideas to achieve the same results…
Telling a grandmother that she may not use her own property to provide shelter to a grandchild — or to hire mercenaries to work in that grandchild’s campaign for public office — raises important constitutional concerns that are unrelated to the First Amendment.”
(See also Byron White’s concurrence in part in Buckley, which argues that “[n]othing in the First Amendment stands in the way of ” campaign finance limits.)
But somewhere along the line and for whatever reason, the ACLU latched on to both of these unwise shibboleths, and have since been arguing that corporate personhood and the idea of money as speech are both enshrined in the First Amendment. Uh…really?
To see what kind of damage these two bogus ideas have wrought, one need only to go over to Salon and read through Glenn Greenwald’s ugly meltdown on Citzens United the past few days. As anyone who visits GitM regularly knows, I link to Greenwald pretty much constantly. On a host of issues, from Obama’s terrible record on civil liberties to the broken-down state of our journalism, he’s been remarkably on point, and one of my favorite columnists to read. I used to wonder if there was anything I disagreed with him on. Well, it turns out, there is. And, apparently, I’m a “partisan hack” for thinking different.
For the Cliff Notes version of this whole conversation, I wrote up a snarky summation of it here yesterday, well after things had gone south. But, basically, Glenn — on “homework assignment” — argued on Friday that, all the negative consequences that will ensue aside, the Majority in Citizen’s United decided the case correctly, that this was a victory for the first amendment, and that people who disagree with their decision are practicing “outcome-based law.” (He also made the dubious and unprovable assertion that things can’t get any worse anyway. Really? We’ll see.)
Well, this assessment did not sit right with a lot of people. Some questioned his reading of the case. Others pointed out that law is always outcome-based, even the Majority’s ruling in Citizens. (The concerned outcome for Justice Kennedy here is that blogs might get banned someday, somehow, if this ruling isn’t made. I’ll take my chances.) And, others, such as myself, questioned these two principles — corporations are people, money is speech — that the ruling was based on.
Well, suffice to say, Greenwald did not take criticism well. He adamantly refused to engage either notion — money isn’t speech, corporations aren’t people — as having any merit whatsoever, eventually trying to write off both with some dubious 1L hypotheticals. (All were answered to his disadvantage, several times over.) He went on to ridicule the folks who disagreed with him in a “check out the Big Brain on me” kinda way. (He argued his lawyerly creds just means he knows better.) He ignored Stevens’ actual dissent throughout. And he accused folks of being just like Dubya on torture for deigning to disagree with him on the decision.
This embarrassing conceit — those with disagree with me are Dubyaites, end of story — formed the extraordinarily condescending introduction of Greenwald’s follow-up to his first post. Still ignoring the legitimate criticisms people were making of the two assertions above — money=speech and corporations=people, Glenn instead pulled one line from Justice Stevens’ ninety pages of dissent to argue that all nine Justices agreed with both of these propositions. (This even though both Ginsburg and Sotomayor questioned the corporate personhood idea in oral arguments, and that Stevens explicitly said he did not agree with the money=speech proposition in Nixon v. Shrink, an argument Glenn would not touch.) As it turns out, the one line Glenn pulled from Stevens’ dissent proved neither assertion. Nonetheless, he returned to his shell, refusing to even consider the notion that “money=speech” or “corporations=people” might be lousy interpretations or legal accidents, or that they aren’t necessarily covered by the First Amendment.
The ACLU has a long history of standing up to and defying people [like] you: those who pretend to believe in the Constitution and civil liberties only when it can be used as a weapon to advance your partisan and political agenda.
If they didn’t reverse themselves on the First Amendment rights of Nazis in the wake of huge numbers of people like you (those who only believe in the Constitution when it suits them) cutting off funding and leaving the organization, I highly doubt they will do so now….
But what has made the ACLU such an important and unique organization is that they have stood their ground on principle and resisted the efforts of people like you to turn it into a partisan tool rather than an organization devoted to the Constitution.“
I guess he figured I’d forget what “people like me” means from paragraph to paragraph. And, yes, y’all, I’ve been writing on politics and progressivism here for ten years because I’ve always wanted to subvert the Constitution to my own ends. And I would’ve gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for that nasty Greenwald!
Anyway, when I then reminded Greenwald that people of principle can disagree on these issues, and that it may even be possible that the ACLU reformers might even be the right ones in this story, that’s when I got called an Orwellian partisan hack once more. (FWIW, here’s my kissoff. I particularly like “paddock of principle and certitude.”)
Throughout this whole back-and-forth, there was not even the remotest possibility that any other interpretation on these two questions had merit for Greenwald: Corporations have first amendment rights. Money is speech. Both are obviously enshrined in the First Amendment. And arguing anything else is ridiculous and deserving of scorn (even if Supreme Court justices have argued differently in the past, including as recently as Thursday.) So let it be written, so let it be done.
Uh…really? Who knows…perhaps it’s a lawyer thing. Nonetheless, this myopic, bullish way of thinking — I hold the only correct possible interpretation of the law, and you’re either with me or you’re with the Dubyaites — isn’t very satisfying on either personal or argumentative grounds. And Greenwald’s constant doubling down on his original argument, even as more and more holes were poked in it by various responders, makes me question not only his temperament but his writing in general. He usually provides a valuable public service, no doubt, but he seems to have bought into his own hype as an Incorruptible Defender of Liberty. If you can’t think outside of yourself once in awhile, or find some way to weigh arguments you may not necessarily agree with without deeming them unprincipled, you’re really not much use to anyone.
Update: Looks like Greenwald addressed this topic one more time this morning. Here’s what he said:
“‘Money is not speech’ is an idiot bumper sticker slogan, not a meaningful argument which resolves anything. ‘Corporations have no constitutional rights’ is such an extreme and dangerous position (it endorses the constitutionality of the FBI’s searching whatever corporate offices they want and seizing all corporate documents with no search warrants or probable cause, or the Congress’ imposing $10 million fines on corporations every time they criticize the government, among other things) that it’s frivolous in the extreme. Despite that, I spent substantial time all weekend addressing and responding to those frivolous bumper sticker slogans.“
So there you have it. An “idiot bumper sticker slogan”…repeated verbatim by Justice Stevens in 2000. (And, for what it’s worth, Greenwald referred to civil rights lawyer David Kairys’ piece on these two questions, linked several times above, as “stupid and ill-informed.”) Class act, Glenn.
“If Republicans were wondering how their 2012 presidential candidate is going to compete against President Obama’s $600 million fundraising juggernaut, the Supreme Court seems poised to provide an answer: unlimited corporate spending supporting the Republican candidate, or attacking Obama.” With Justice Sotomayor aboard, the Supreme Court holds a special session today to re-hear arguments in Citizens United v. F.E.C.
And, as Slate‘s Richard Hasen explains, the projected outcome does not look good for McCain-Feingold or advocates of campaign finance reform. “If Roberts or Alito were ready to go the narrow route again in Citizens United, however, there would have been no reason to set the case for reargument explicitly asking the parties to brief the constitutional question, and certainly no reason to rush the case to September so it can be decided before the 2010 election season goes into full swing…Expect the floodgates to open, and the money to flow freely, as early as next year.“
“‘In another state, he would be toast,’ said Charlie Cook, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. ‘In Alaska, you gotta make him a significant underdog.‘” How’s this for a sign of the times? Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate (and the only one to famously favor a Hulk tie), is very quickly found guilty on seven felony counts of lying on his non-disclosure forms. As you may remember, the indictments broke in July, and Stevens — asking for a quick pre-election trial — got one.
And yet, despite the desperate entreaties of Senator McCain and the governor of his home state, one Sarah Palin, Stevens has vowed to fight on for re-election next week, thus further boosting the chances of a Dem Senate pick-up in the Last Frontier…and beyond. “‘It’s a horrible year for Republicans, in a horrific fall, and this is yet another horrific event,’ Cook said. ‘This throws them off message; it puts them back on the defensive again. It makes it harder to separate themselves from the party.‘” Well, thanks for that, at least, Senator.
“After nearly 15 minutes of soul-searching, I have heard the call.” Finally, the candidate we’ve all been waiting for…Charleston’s own Stephen Colbert announces he’s running for president in South Carolina, and South Carolina only, on both the Democratic and Republican tickets. (Sadly, Aragorn can’t vote in the Palmetto State.) In The Atlantic, Joshua Green handicaps his chances. “I can’t point to anything other than truthiness, but I believe the ‘drunken college student’ demographic is being overlooked. Anecdotal evidence lends support. ‘I’m surprised how many students seem to get their news from Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert,’ Blease admitted. ‘In the grand tradition of student mischief, you could see Colbert having a pied-piper effect.’” Update: But is he breaking the law?
“‘Everything has been skewed,’ Clinton says, jabbing her index finger for emphasis, ‘to help the privileged and the powerful at the expense of everybody else!’ It’s a rousing speech, though ultimately not very convincing. If Clinton really wanted to curtail the influence of the powerful, she might start with the advisers to her own campaign, who represent some of the weightiest interests in corporate America.” In a cover story for The Nation, Ari Berman takes a gander at the corporate connections among Hillary’s inner circle, concluding that “[i]t’s hard to see how her advisers’ corporate work doesn’t reflect poorly on Clinton’s progressive claims or create a liability for her with Democratic voters.“