America is facing a “dark money” crisis & the Supreme Court is about to make it worse
Thanks to Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, the Supreme Court has become a menace, and only Congress and President Biden can fix it.
In 2010 conservatives on the Supreme Court, over the loud and clear objections of members of the moderate and liberal minority, doubled down on earlier suggestions that corporations are not “dead and soulless creations of the law,” as one of America’s first Supreme Court justices called them, but actually “persons” and, as such, have access to those rights we find in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Today’s Supreme Court just chose to hear a new case that may radically expand those “corporate rights” by letting corporations conceal the people funding their actions in the political sphere.
Back in 1907, to stop the Robber Barons of the day from using their massive corporate resources to corrupt politics, Republican President Teddy Roosevelt pushed the Tillman Act through Congress, which made it a federal crime for any corporation to give any kind of money or other support to any candidate for federal office.
It stood for more than a half a century before conservatives on the Supreme Court with their “corporations are persons, my friend“ ideology struck it down.
Now that the Supreme Court has broadly let corporations involve themselves in politics, two very politically active corporations are demanding that they should be able to influence politics and politicians without anybody ever knowing are the actual humans behind their efforts.
These corporations demand the “right” to put forward and sponsor candidates and legislation that will serve their interests without American voters ever realizing that those candidates are actually front men for some of America’s most powerful oligarchs.
Even if other corporations have extensive ties to foreign governments or take most of their money from foreign leaders to whom they may be especially beholden, this case could establish the universal billionaire “right” to own American politicians and push legislation entirely in secret.
This is what it looks like when a democratic republic makes the transition into a full blown Oligarchy, as I outline in my new book The Hidden History of American Oligarchy.
In this case before the Court, the rich don’t just want their corporations to essentially take over the American political process; they want to make it impossible for the people subject to the power of law and government to know who is really behind the scenes pulling the strings.
It’s hard to imagine that this is what the Founders had in mind when, in the Declaration of Independence, they wrote, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.“
To add insult to injury, the two corporations bringing this case, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation that has historically been funded by the Koch brothers and their friends, and the Thomas More Law Center, which describes itself as a “Christian, conservative” organization, are both non-profits and therefore subsidized by your taxes and mine.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse writes about this in a January 12th National Law Journal article titled ‘Dark Money’ Influence Could Soon Become a Constitutional Right:
“The Supreme Court faces a credibility crisis,” Whitehouse writes. “This crisis intensifies after nearly $100 million in anonymous funding — known as ‘dark money’ — entered the confirmation fights of the last three [Supreme Court] justices.”
Senator Whitehouse adds, “At the same time, the country faces a dark-money crisis as anonymous influence spreads malicious disinformation and corrupts and disrupts our politics. And now a case before the court could lock in dark money influence as a constitutional right.”
This is a crisis brought about by 50 years of wealthy conservatives using their financial power to manipulate the American political process, a takeover envisioned by Lewis Powell in his 1971 memo to the US Chamber of Commerce (who’ve filed a friend of the court brief in favor of this case). A year later Richard Nixon put Powell on the Supreme Court, and he authored the 1978 Bellotti decision that, for the first time ever, established the “free speech rights” of corporations.
There’s little we as citizens can do to influence the Supreme Court. But Congress an change the entire character of the Court by expanding the number of justices to reestablish a rational ideological balance.
That should be one of President Biden’s and this new Congress’ first priorities.