By Julie Penny
Until his term expires, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy clings to the raft of his position in a choppy sea of questions needing to be answered. They won’t be because of a deal struck by District Attorney Tom Spota. One’s left feeling we’re only seeing the tip of an iceberg atop a wide-spread but submerged obstacle—that of chasing money to attain or remain in political office. Pity Spota didn’t shine a light on it to help disinfect a system gone awry. Though they say Levy didn’t personally profit by it, Levy’s campaign war chest swelled to $4 million dollars as a result of “pay-to-play.” Levy turned the money over to investigators to be returned to donors and won’t run again. Apparently, once a straight-arrow kind of guy in these matters, Mr. Levy had come to believe that “pay-to-play” was okay because all the other politicians were doing it. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Believing it’s okay using pay-to-play as a device to pay for the ever-escalating costs of campaigning because it’s become the new, but quite smelly, normal. The whole system is irretrievably corrupted. So corrupted and impacted with boatloads of money that we need to rotor-rooter the entire political sewer. It’s become a problem of calamitous proportions. One our democracy can not survive; especially since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in January 2010 in favor of “Citizens United” in their landmark decision which drowns out we mere mortals in the tsunami of money that corporations—even foreign interests—can spend to buy elections and politicians. Once bought, the politicians pay back their benefactors handsomely. On a national level we see how Big Oil, Big Gas, Big Coal, Big Agribusines, Big Banking, the nuclear, pharmaceutical, health insurance industries shamelessly get what they want. Bought politicians no longer even bother to hide their depredations against us as they fulfill the wishes of their corporate paymasters with laws that deregulate, that under-fund the work of critical oversight agencies, that exploit our natural and human resources, and that give them tax breaks and loopholes and subsidies on the backs of the midle-class and poor. The public’s health, welfare, and economic well-being is being sacrificed on the altar of corporate profiteering. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen United v. Federal Election Commission decision makes the scale of the corrosive pillage on the White House, on the Congress, on the Judiciary, all the more easy. It’s even enabled the U.S. Chamber of Commerce whose raison d’etre is getting carte blanche for big business, as opposed to small business, to funnel in tons of money from foreign interests to help buy our elections by supporting GOP candidates. America is for sale and goes to the highest bidder. In this world both Republicans and Democrats prostitute themselves, but by far the Republicans get the most cash and corporate backing.
Public Interest goups, the League of Women Voters (LWV) among them, have advocated long and hard to get money out of elections so we can have clean and fair elections. This March, the LWV and coalition partners filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of public financing for campaigns. The brief supported Arizona’s threatened “Public Financing” law enacted in the late 1990′s which leveled the playing field so that “people who aren’t wealthy and who don’t have wealthy friends could compete against those who are privately funded.” Republicans want the law repealed (along with our public-funding option for presidential candidates). The U.S. Supreme Court will decide the case in late June. Arizona’s law has worked well in getting the corrupting influence of money out of state elections. However, it’s been challenged in the Court by dint of 2007 and 2010 decisions that hold that free speech requires free spending.
Now, based on last year’s Citizens United decision one can only surmise that it, too, will be defeated defeated 5 to 4 by the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative Republican majority. Justice Thomas should recuse himself from deliberationg on the case as I’ll explain later. Citizens United went whole-hog in destroying a hundred years of settled law by extending to corporations the ability to spend unlimited amounts of money (under the guise of “free speech” under the First Amendment) in electing their candidates. Five Supreme Court Justices: Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy have extended “personhood” to corporations with First Amendment rights mistakenly equating money with free speech. Paradoxically, secretive big donors, billionaires, corporations, and their front groups don’t have to disclose who they are, how much they are spending. “In eviscerating long-standing rules that prohibit corporations from using their own monies to influence elections, the court invites giant corporations to open up their treasuries to buy election outcomes.” And, they did just that—twice the amount was spent in the 2010 midterm elections as oppsed to the 2006 midterm elections. Unprecedented amounts of corporate money flooded the 2010 campaing process and we saw huge targeted campaigns with their front groups attacking principaled candidates who dared to challenge narrow corporate interests. With insufficient money to defend or compete, these candidates were effectively mowed down by the tidal wave of money unleashed against them. Obviously, this has a chilling effect on candidates and elected officials who will be deterred from advocating and implementing policies that advance the public interest but injure the deep pocket corporations.
This past January, the non-profit interest watch-dog, Public Citzen, compiled a 70-page report, “The Effects of Citizens United on Elections and the Integrity of the Legislative Process.” It shows the unbridled damage wrought by the conservative Justices’ opinion. “The report also provides firsthand information about the mood in the halls of Congress and how staffs react when they see corporate lobbyists coming to call. One staffer summarized the dangers posed to the integrity of the legislative process by the Citizens United decision when he asked at a congressional briefing sponsored by Public Citizen and other groups ‘How do you say “no” to a deep-pocketed corporate lobbyist who now has all the resources necessary to defeat my boss in the next election?’”
Citizens United was a game changer that scuttled the longstanding American tradition of prohibiting overt corporate spending to influence elections. Sad to say, Public Citizen’s report indicates that nuclear money bombs to spread misinformation, and to wage misleading and attack ads against candidates by undisclosed donors and corporations do work. They effectively sunk 60% of their targeted candidates in the 2010 election contests. And, it’s money funneled into just “10″ of these outside groups that’s doing so much of the dirty-work. “Nearly half the money spent ($138.5 million, or 47.1%) came from only 10 groups during the election cycle.” Early last year, Justice Clarence Thomas voted for the infamous Citizens United even though he had a clear-cut conflict of interest and it was incumbent upon him to recuse himself from the case. Justice Thomas, turns out, violated federal law for years by checking off the “NONE” box on the judicial Financial Disclosure Reports he submitted for “Spouse’s Non-Investment Income” when, in fact, his wife, Virginia (“Ginni”) Thomas was employed by rightwing organizations from which she made hundreds of thousands of dollars. These organizations also happened to benefit from Justice Thomas’ votes on a number of U.S. Supreme Court opinions, including last year’s infamous Citizens United decision. One asks how can Justice Thomas act with such impugnity, and, without it being big news in the mainstream media? Time and again we see our politcal and financial elites ignore the law and are never made accountable.
Law professor, Paul Campos, wrote in the Daily Beast that Thomas’ wife “was paid nearly $700,000 by the Heritage Foundation, a ‘conservative think tank’ between 2003 and 2007, as well as an undisclosed amount by another lobbying group in 2009.” This isn’t small change. The relevant question on the disclosure form isn’t complicated, both you and I could fill it in correctly, it’s that simple and straightforward. You can see the form yourself at: http://www.judicialwatch.org/jfd/Thomas_Clarence/2009pdf
In July 2010, six months after her husband voted for Citizens United, Ginni Thomas founded, and, is president of, “Liberty Central,” a Tea-Party think tank. It was started with only two secret contributions totaling $550,000.