January 30, 1976 is to plutocracy in the United States what July 4, 1776 was to its democracy. The fortieth anniversary of Buckley v Valeo, the 1976 Supreme Court decision that legalized systemic political corruption and fraud, presents an opportunity to assess its continuing impact.
The importance of the decision will be known to those who have successfully tracked the telltale footprints of causality back from,
1) the United States’ record-setting and still growing economic inequality, along with
3) the decline of democracy as a result of
4) systemically corrupt politics, to
5) its root cause in the Supreme Court’s legalization of special interest money in politics.
As the charter for the nation’s corrupt tyranny, Buckley is no occasion for public celebration. Indeed, its apologists like to lie about its age and only talk about its recent progeny in the six-year-old Citizens United as if Buckley corruption were a recent phenomenon. That Buckley has reached middle age and never felt stronger, or more dangerous, should not go unremarked. Bernie Sanders’ historic campaign against the “corrupt campaign finance system which is undermining American democracy” is necessarily a campaign against Buckley.
This article observes Buckley‘s 40th by taking score of the most important events in 2015 that will expand or limit the damage traceable to its novel “money is speech” formula. Some of the developments are positive, some negative; some are obvious or well-known, some are barely heard of. Each makes the list because of its strategic importance, its capacity for advancing the nation’s common cultural treasure of democracy or instead losing it to those who plunder it for private gain.
This list provides a snapshot of how, after two generations, the country is dealing (or not) with the continuation of Buckley’s bizarre and reckless experiment in legalizing political fraud and corruption in the name of “the freedom of speech.”
Those who have been subjected the longest to Buckley corruption are similarly situated to those who at the end of the 1950’s had lived under “red scare” anti-communism ideology that first arose under Woodrow Wilson and his Attorney General Palmer two generations before. The 1960’s rejection of the McCarthy Era anti-communism cure as more dangerous and repulsive than the purported disease created an opening for extensive democratic advance.
Buckley was intended to, and did, shut down that democratic moment of progress that occurred in the 1960’s to mid-1970’s for civil rights, women’s liberation, environmental reform, constraints on militarism and intelligence abuses, and for many other lesser known democratic reforms, such as the regulation of money in politics and abandoning the political boss system in favor of a primary based selection system for presidential candidates.
Buckley‘s “money is speech” formula was imposed on the country by justices appointed by the career anti-communist and criminal President Richard Nixon pursuant to an illegitimate judicial supremacy ideology. This empty self-serving ideology, like anti-communism, was similarly designed by elites to impose on Americans an asymmetric understanding of “freedom,” one that frees plutocrats from the constraints of democracy while enslaving the great majority. The judicial supremacists’ novel formula equating money with speech converted “the freedom of speech” found in the First Amendment to serve democracy into a freedom to corrupt and defraud to serve plutocracy.
Democracy will be revived when a new generation rejects both the ideology of plutocratic judicial supremacy and the authority of its authors to impose this ideology on the country.
The Supreme Court justices who have used this ideology to “undermin[e] American democracy” have neither democratic credentials nor institutional authority to remake the Constitution. Having spent their careers entirely in service of a corrupt plutocracy both on and off the Court, the Roberts five majority that controls the Supreme Court lack the professional stature to give their decrees credibility. They have committed “treason to the Constitution” by usurping jurisdiction not given them by the Constitution. They impose upon an unwilling public, through undemocratic means, the false constitutional proposition that the systemic corruption of special interest money in politics was mandated by the nation’s founders. Under this theory, the founders supposedly created an elaborate fraud by pretending to legitimize government solely by the “consent of the governed.” According to five plutocratic justices, hidden somewhere in the words “the freedom of speech,” is a license for plutocracy. The license allows elected representatives to nullify that consent by selling out the interests of the governed to corrupt political investors.
Polls consistently show that large majorities understand “money has too much influence” in United States’ politics. They also show that the fraudulent economy combined with the fraudulent politics which enables it has significantly reduced social trust in the generation most affected by the corrupt system that Buckleycreated. Not yet widely understood is an effective strategy for rebuilding a democratic community by getting private money out of its politics.
Therefore, the criteria for making this 40th-anniversary list is the significance of each item for such an authentic strategy. This requires careful vetting and explanation. As might be expected from a political culture of fraud, there is a small non-profit industry that makes money by peddling fraudulent strategies to solve the problem of political corruption.
The list presented here attributes no value to the emotional manipulation sought by repetitive recitation of the appalling extent and variety of means by which the nation’s general welfare is sold out by the Buckley plutocracy. Practitioners in the non-profit industrial complex commonly use this tactic to gain credibility for their ineffective and diversionary soundbite strategies. Filling in the details about a system which the public already broadly knows to be corrupt does not advance strategy or justify the soundbites offered. It is sufficient for strategic purposes to know that Buckley‘s legalization of political corruption under its “money is speech” formula has caused United States government to become systemically corrupt at all levels.
Systemic corruption infects everything that government touches or that society inherently depends upon government to provide, such as the criminal justice system. One recent book which does dwell on such details, nevertheless does correctly observe: “As far back as 1994, three-quarters of survey respondents agreed that ‘our present system of government is democratic in name only.’” What this majority has lacked for a generation or more is not more evidence and greater detailed description of what it already knows, but rather an effective strategy to restore democracy. The same book seeks to use its reflected credibility from describing corruption to promote the fraudulent strategy called here the “Amendment Diversion.” See ## 6 & 7.
The systemic corruption created by Buckley is entirely different in kind from individual acts of corruption that preceded it. Confusion of these two forms of corruption is one cause of the ineffective or counterproductive reformproposals that have plagued efforts to address the problem of plutocracy.
Even when widespread, such as that seen during “the depth of … criminality and abuse of power” of Nixon’s presidency, individual corruption remains illegal. Prior to 1976, political corruption by even the highest officials could be punished when detected. The consequence of legalizing political corruption can be generally measured by the country’s extreme and growing economic inequality since 1976, which year marked the last highpoint of equality before it began to tumble alongside democracy (Table 4).
Under Supreme Court protection, the rackets that produce historic economic disparity are now limited only by the imagination of those holding the strings. There is no shortage of information about the consequences of the corrupt influence of money in politics. Nor are there significant gaps in the general public understanding of that information, as demonstrated by the polls mentioned above. If fresh evidence of the magnitude of corruption is sought, the reader is invited to consult the author’s article, “Rackets Science” about Obama’s 2014 and 2015 Omnibus appropriations acts.
Not so widely discussed, but critically essential for achieving reform, is the strategic information presented in the following list of last year’s most significant gains and losses in the struggle between democracy and plutocracy.
#1. Campaign: The Most Corrupt of the Century. The Supreme Court’s McCutcheon (2014) decision multiplied the amount of money that plutocrats could cumulatively invest directly in politicians and parties by almost 3000%, to around $3.6 million per election cycle. In the year-end “CRomnibus” Act of 2014, corrupt and hypocritical Congressional Democrats, led by President Obama, increased the amount that plutocrats can give to parties by about 1000%, increasing the total potential rake by politicians to about $5.1 million per major plutocrat.
In 2015, this outrageous new “limit” permitted fewer plutocrats to attempt to buy more policy by controlling presidential nominations with more money than was legal for the previous four elections of this century, and probably since “Dollar” Mark Hanna bought two elections for President William McKinley at the height of the first Gilded Age. Unlike the unlimited “independent” corporate expenditures legalized by Citizens United (2010), these direct political investments in politicians and parties by individuals must be reported. Citizens United electioneering money, by contrast, can be and is kept secret by funneling it through “dark money” channels.
The symbol of this new concentration of plutocratic power in 2015, based on the reported data, is that 158 families “each contributed $250,000 or more in the campaign through June 30 … while an additional 200 families gave more than $100,000. Together, the two groups contributed well over half the money in the presidential election — the vast majority of it supporting Republicans.” The unreported “dark money” contributions are probably even more highly concentrated.
Where a bought majority of politicians rule, it only takes “over half the money” from fewer than 400 families to buy control of U.S. elections and policy, both state and federal. This concentration of political power newly demonstrated in 2015 is far greater than that of the English aristocrats that the founders revolted against in 1776, and is probably greater than anything seen in the United States since then. The only possible exception would have occurred at the height of the first Gilded Age.
#2. Campaign: Berning Down the House. An Independent who is in every respect as different from Democratic Party leadership as Vermont is from Chicago, has run an effective campaign against the Party that Barack Obama will leave even more corrupt than he found it. Polls show Bernie Sanders is the most popular candidate in the race. If he can draw Independent voters into the Democratic Party primary process he will win the nomination and go on to beat any Republican as the nation’s first Independent president.
Sanders’ victory is strategically essential. A systemically corrupt government can only be reformed from the top down. Every year it is postponed, the task becomes more difficult. Sanders has pledged to appoint justices who will not overturn anti-corruption laws on specious grounds, which is how systemic corruption got started with Buckley v Valeo (1976). Unlike Obama, President Sanders can be expected to appoint an attorney general who has not served corporate interests and will aggressively enforce anti-corruption laws against them. Moreover, the power of the presidency is far greater than Obama pretends it to be, in his deft defense of the corrupt status quo. President Sanders could force Congress to take action against the corruption of money in politics, if he retains public support into the 2018 midterms. See #8.
For every previous crisis in U.S. democracy caused by a U.S. Supreme Court majority of judicial supremacists acting on behalf of racist oligarchs or greedy plutocrats, it was a president, whether Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, T. Roosevelt or F.D. Roosevelt who warned against and stood up to the Court in defense of democracy. Bernie Sanders’ election to the presidency is the essential first step for the United States to begin recovering its democracy from the current grip of a judicial supremacist Supreme Court and the plutocrats it has empowered who are financing one of the most corrupt political campaigns in world history in order to beat him.
#3. Campaign: The Others. An indication of the influence of Bernie Sanders’ campaign against the political corruption and fraud in which both parties are otherwise deeply mired is that Hillary Clinton, who along with Bill are icons of the corrupt Democratic Party, has in response developed detailed anti-corruption proposals as a pillar of her own campaign. Even if her proposed reforms are carefully crafted to be so piecemeal in nature that they could easily make the corruption worse rather than better, it is as unusual for a plutocrat to debate plutocracy as it is for a fish to debate water. See #4.
Even more interesting in reflecting a public mood that is finally turning against plutocracy is the Republican side. Polls consistently show that the plutocratic congressional leadership’s unrelenting promotion of even more money in politics contradicts the views of a majority of their own constituents. This has produced a remarkable congruence of politics and business. Donald Trump’s private interest in free promotion of his brand name in service of his “business model … in which he makes money by harnessing his celebrity brand” has converged with political strategy. Republican voters believe that in Trump they are getting a plutocrat who both thinks like them (one of Trump’s arts of the deal) and is too fat a cat himself to fit into the pocket of other plutocrats.
No one can promote the Trump brand better than Trump. The more that Trump’s unscripted remarks designed for advertising his brand also prove to his followers that he is not a vacuous creature of paid political consultants, the stronger both their public support and his private brand become. This sweet spot where political tactics and business interests merge for the leading Republican also explains the souring of Republican voters on the Bush family brand (it’s nothing personal Jeb) whose three generations of service to the establishment plutocracy has finally been sussed out by the social-conservative base.
The issue of plutocracy has thus intruded into the top of both parties’ ballots. For the first time since Buckley replanted noxious first Gilded Age seeds, this has unsettled the plutocracy’s expected harvest. The last democratically elected president, “Jimmy Who?” Carter was able to come from nowhere, using public election funding, to win by a 2-1 margin over the runner-up in the gate-keeping Iowa caucuses just 11 days before the Supreme Court issued the Buckley decision on January 30, 1976. Before his presidency was inaugurated on the steps of the Capitol the next year, democracy had already left the building in retreat from Buckley‘s new systemic corruption.
Now Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal puzzles about the “total weirdness of the 2016 campaign” where the establishment candidates of both parties are disliked by the voters. NYT calls the result “a people’s coup by selecting a standard-bearer who is not the preferred candidate of wealthy donors and elected officials.”
#4. Obama. The “hope” salesman was not required to make the kind of concrete proposals that Clinton put in front of the public to appear legitimate in 2015. The experience with Obama prompted many to want to get it in writing this time.
Obama got away with vague claims to be “tired of business as usual in Washington,” and seeming sincerity in pledging to “fundamentally change the status quo in Washington.” But in his actions on the subject of money in politics Obama has consistently either defended the corrupt status quo or made it much worse.
In 2015 Obama again hung tough for plutocracy by resisting mounting pressure from professional activists, many of whom themselves use dark money, that he issue administrative regulations mandating the disclosure of anonymous independent corporate election expenditures. Especially those political investments made by government contractors are responsible for a large share of government corruption.
As one report charged, Obama had resisted for the previous five years exercising his legal authority to make this promised reform. In 2015 he ran out of excuses for failing to keep his campaign promise, after the prestigious DC Circuit unanimously upheld in Wagner (2015) the underlying law prohibiting all election expenditures by government contractors, a law which Obama has failed to enforce in violation of the Take Care clause of the Constitution. See (Ch. 2)
Obama’s opposition to reform of money in politics was demonstrated again in his CRomnibus II Act, where in apparent response to Wagner he obtained a law (for which he thanked Paul Ryan) which abrogated the president’s existing powers to force disclosure of political investments by government contractors, other corporations and the non-profits used for channeling dark money. Under such a law, President Sanders could not fulfill his campaign promise to end dark money expenditures without first getting the permission of the beneficiaries of dark money in Congress.
Obama’s hopeless performance in 2015 proved again that his term-limited exit can only help the recovery of democracy. Corruption at the top prevents effective systemic reform. There has been none under Obama. The question is whether voters will take the first real opportunity in 40 years to replace him with a president focused on the issue of political corruption.
#5. Supreme Court. The news from the Supreme Court in 2015 was that Chief Justice Roberts paused in his annual pillage of anti-corruption laws in order to engage in some PR symbolism and tactical alliance building with Obama’s appointees. In Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar (2015) (5-4), John Roberts, but only Roberts, abandoned his eponymous gang of five marauders to join two unlikely allies for placing window dressing on the plutocracy jurisprudence that the Roberts Court has been developing, mostly under his own name, for a decade.
By joining what would normally have been the usual four Democrat dissenters from just one more predictably outrageous pro-corruption decision by the Roberts 5, Roberts got to write a majority decision notionally restricting the judicial solicitation of campaign contributions, while confining the ruling to its narrowest possible reach. Roberts held that judges seeking handouts “cannot say, ‘Please give me money.’ They can, however, direct their campaign committees to do so.” Then after receiving the money the judge can also personally thank the contributor. This is the kind of formal distinction without any practical difference which Roberts commonly presses into service for his PR needs.
Veteran Court-watcher Lyle Deniston called Roberts’ decision “a quite modest retreat from the Supreme Court’s full support for the free and massive flow of money into American politics.” A commenter in the Atlantic more finely assessed that modesty by observing that Roberts’ “opinion upheld a very narrow reform measure, but at the same time made further reforms marginally harder to enact.”
Justice Ginsburg dissented from The Florida Bar for some of the same strong general principles on which she had dissented from Republican Party of Minnesota v. White (2002). White was the first case to decide that elected judges should be auctioned just as politicians are. Integrity of the courts would erode under the same “money is speech” rules that legalized political corruption.
Justice Ginsburg’s dissent from White in 2002 attracted four votes to her argument that judges serve a governmental role entirely different from politicians and so should not be selling their decisions,. The worst news from the Supreme Court in The Florida Bar was not the narrow basis for Roberts’ opinion which serves to confirm White. It was that he recruited the two Obama appointees, Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, to his position. Obama’s appointees deserted Justice Ginsburg’s highly cogent restatement of her dissent in White in favor of joining Chief Justice Roberts’ confirmation of White’s prohibition of any practically effective restraints on corruptive judicial fundraising.
This development should be troubling for those relying on the strategy of new appointments to the Court by establishment Democrats like Obama or Clinton to some day solve the problem of money in politics. Seven judges, including Obama’s two appointees, now believe that even the elected judiciary should be subject to the full-bore corruption mandated by the Supreme Court for politicians. This suggests that a shift in balance by a new judicial appointment or two even by a President Sanders will be insufficient to restore democracy. The president who raised the most money of any president in history has already done too much damage to the Court, as he has to the law, to expect the Court’s “money is speech” jurisprudence to be so easily changed.
This recruitment of Obama’s judges to the Roberts’ dark side helps explain why, on this mostly symbolic decision having no immediate impact one way or the other on the ongoing corruption of state judiciaries, Roberts made his rare shift of sides to the minority Democrat faction. The shift may have been to strategically capture these two votes, in addition to the Roberts 5, for approving judicial corruption in principle even if his new allies took offense at the unseemly symbolism in the practice of direct personal solicitation by The Florida Bar judges
As some small consolation, unexpected schadenfreude can be derived as three written dissents, by Scalia, Alito and Kennedy, for the first time – instead of simply manufacturing new constitutional law on demand – wander in different directions seeking to rebuild arguments on the elusive foundations of the “money is speech” proposition in Buckley. Such foundations are non-existent because Buckley employed only shell-game logic.
The ongoing corruption of the judiciary, only reinforced by The Florida Bar, tolls the bell on the rule of law, without which democracy cannot survive.
#6. Professional Activists: The Amendment Diversion. With credit to political scientist Courtney Jung, Lactivism: How Feminists and Fundamentalists, Hippies and Yuppies, and Physicians and Politicians Made Breastfeeding Big Business and Bad Policy (2015), who claims the “breast is best” movement was driven by profiteering and shoddy research, her catchy neologism for perverse activism can be borrowed here to encompass a broader, not dissimilar, phenomenon. “Lactivists” furnishes a single descriptive word for professional activists who purvey marketable soundbites lacking foundation in credible strategy, or even the basic knowledge required to formulate one.
Such “lactivists,” or perhaps “lacktivists” for this broader application, and their “soundbitten” slogans about the problem of money in politics have played a key role in diverting strategy up blind alleys, as they sucked up resources that might have helped, had they been guided toward credible strategies. For six years lacktivists have advocated futile constitutional amendments to “overturn Citizens United” or to “abolish corporate personhood,” and/or — pending such an unlikely amendment — promoted ineffectively piecemeal strategies to pursue in the meantime. See #7.
Contrary to a steady flow of soundbites from these lacktivists, an amendment is neither necessary nor sufficient to solve the problem of money in politics. But it is, of course, the most difficult, and therefore highly unlikely, of all possible means to attempt to achieve any policy change.
The leading recent one-volume historical treatment of political responses to the problem of judicial supremacy (the ideology at the root of the modern problem of systemic corruption) is Stephen M. Engel, American Politicians Confront the Court: Opposition Politics and Changing Responses to Judicial Power (2011). Engeldescribes how advocacy of constitutional amendment is commonly used to avoid achieving reform while hypocritically pretending otherwise for the usual political gain to be derived from working both sides of the street. Engel notes that “difficult-to-pass constitutional amendments … maximize position taking” with “actions [that] are primarily symbolic.” Thus “constitutional amendment” gestures of a “symbolic nature” frequently appear in the theater of “rhetorical politics exploited for electoral gain.” The deceived side believes that the rhetoric supports dramatic change; its opposition wastes no effort on more than occasional theatrical combat, aware that the politician’s choice of the least likely means for achieving such change presents no risk while safely wasting the political capital of the true believers.
Prof. Bruce Ackerman – a highly cited Yale constitutional scholar and top global thinker who is the foremost student of, and most prolific writer about, U.S. political movements and constitutional change – agrees. He concludes a study of the counterproductive experience with movements that prioritized the goal of amending the constitution with the following admonition about the lessons learned: “Every constitutional movement now understands that Article Five [constitutional amendment or convention] is a road to nowhere.”
No authentic constitutional scholar considers amending the Constitution a realistic initial political goal capable of solving such a hotly contested political issue like money in politics. Eg. Harvard Prof. Larry Tribe (“dead end”); Dean Erwin Chemerinsky (“zero chance of being passed and enacted…. diverts focus and energy”); Professor Richard Hasen, a leading expert on election law (“political theater … not a serious policy proposal”). Cf. Dean of Yale Law School Robert C. Post whose book-length critique exhausts the thesaurus for calling the Supreme Court’s Buckley line of cases perversely incompetent, concludes: “A line of cases this misguided about matters of such fundamental importance to American politics is a frightful thing.” But he advocates no amendment as a solution to this frightful problem.
Yet, ignoring those who possess knowledge about the Constitution and its history of change, Democrats and their lacktivist allies have, since Citizens United, promoted to an ill-informed public this “Amendment Diversion” strategy as a means to lead political energies away from serious reform proposals. Serious proposals would interfere with relations between Democrats and their paymasters.
This lacktivism, designed for indefinitely sucking up political contributions, has arguably been the foremost obstacle to reform of political corruption because it has served to mislead and disillusion the overwhelming popular opposition to political corruption. One result has been wasted political capital on a strategy that is defective for multiple reasons. See appendix. Another has been disillusion by voters who think that there is no solution, since the dominant Amendment Diversion proposal is so obviously inadequate.
Movements can only be sustained by effective strategy, and it will take a movement to recover democracy from its current bondage to a corrupt plutocracy.
It was therefore of notable strategic importance that in 2015 the cartel of organizations which fundraise on such soundbite strategies changed the non-profit agenda for this particular issue silo. They abandoned amendment as their “most promising” means for reform, or “the solution .. (Donate).” They instead re-packaged it into the somewhat less-dangerous proposition that, on second thought, it is, after all, only one among several possible of the ineffective piecemeal reforms that they would market in future.
This change in marketing strategy followed exposure of Senator Udall’s hypocrisy in leading the virtually unanimous Senate Democrats to the highly predictable abject defeat that his amendment proposal predictably suffered along party lines in 2014. Sen. Udall and a majority of his fellow Democrats then turned around, with no apparent sense of embarrassment or irony, to vote for significantly increasing the amount of money in politics under Obama’s CRomnibus Act of 2014.That a ten-fold increase in legalized bribery of political parties could not even have been prevented by adoption of Udall’s amendment exposed just how useless an amendment would be. This, added to the demonstration of the separate issue of how impossibly difficult it would be to achieve such an amendment in any remotely foreseeable future, caused the lacktivists to retreat. In any event, the amendment effort had gone precisely nowhere in nearly six years, with even worse prospects for the future.
Those who promoted the Amendment Diversion should be barred from advising on this issue in the future, much like neocons should have their licenses revoked from advising more warmongering in the Middle East after driving Bush-era policy into a ditch. Both examples of strategy malfeasance have proven their strategic incompetence, inflicting enough damage on the country in the process.
But that was not to happen in 2015. The most prominent representative of the professional activist cartel, Prof. Larry Lessig, for example, advertised his new 2015 set of strategies in an NYT opinion piece. He failed to confess that he had spent five years as just about the only credentialed proponent of an amendment strategy, much less that he had pursued it in a way that even he admits to be “most insane.” Lessig was the major supporter of amendment by convention, thereby helping a project which is supported primarily by ALEC and the right wing.
As recently as April 24, 2014 Lessig was found persuading the Vermont legislature to help the right wing convene a constitutional convention, falsely representing to Vermont’s legislators it would be “the most promising chance for fundamental reform of the corruption of money in politics.” But in 2015 Lessig rejected amendment in favor of an underwhelming grab bag of other conventional piecemeal reforms, to support his new idiosyncratic strategy of kind-of-running for president.
Unlike what he told the Vermont legislature in 2014 about a constitutional amendment being “the most promising chance for fundamental reform” he told his NYT audience in 2015 that ”constitutional reform is fake reform. And no candidate who talks exclusively about amending the Constitution can be considered a credible reformer.” By his own admission then, Lessig was not a credible reformer for five years while he was pretending otherwise to TED talk audiences. But we are to believe that he and his cartel colleagues suddenly became credible in 2015 by burying their amendment advocacy?
Meanwhile, as commonly happens in paradigm shifts, the most resistant and specially interested adherents to the old order doubled down on their futile strategy by finally putting its defense between the covers of a book. The book recites at greater length the various misleading components of the Amendment Diversion. The most useful function served by this effort, other than as a museum artifact of a troubled soundbitten strategy in its final throes, is its list of personal endorsements. The book’s blurbs round up the full cast of characters from the non-profit industrial complex who have misled the public with empty Amendment Diversion soundbites for six years, as they raised funds or sold books by promoting this misleading soundbite strategy. The zombie amendment strategy walked again in 2015 with Udall’s S.J.Res.5, having 39 cosponsors in the now Republican Senate, and a number of other amendment proposals in the Republican House, e.g. H.J.Res.48, 114th Congress.
#7. Professional Activism: Piecemeal Reform. It was an indisputably good thing that the cartel, which includes a Lessig organization, finally abandoned after five years their Amendment Diversion mythology that an amendment of the Constitution is the sole or “most promising” way to restore democracy. But the cartel only shifted from the active side of the Amendment Diversion to the passive side. The premise of both sides is acceptance of the Supreme Court’s distortion of the Constitution. Instead of actively amending the Constitution, Amendment Diversion activists now promote the idea that, absent such an amendment, reform must be limited to just those ineffectively piecemeal measures that are tolerated by the judicial supremacist majority of the Supreme Court and have been around a century.
This change to promoting those ineffective and even counterproductive piecemeal reforms which the Court’s supremacists allow is just as strategically defective as the cartel’s former prioritizing of a constitutional amendment. Both ignore court stripping under Article III and the 11th Amendment. For example, disclosing dark money has been presented as an important reform without ever explaining that its role is limited to corrupting the procurement process, its only area of importance. The cartel promotes public financing without disclosing that the Supreme Court in Arizona Free Enterprise Club (2011) had already carved the heart out of public funding by prohibiting matching funds. Harvard constitutional law professor Charles Fried accurately explains that case “declared unconstitutional the only way that states and the federal government might make public financing of elections at all attractive to candidates.”
Soundbite-marketeer “lacktivists” remain counter-productive, uninformed and diversionary. But having retreated from their forward position of advocacy of a piecemeal amendment as their priority or only strategy to now backing other unoriginal, even less defensible, piecemeal priorities in 2015, they may have become a somewhat less dangerous diversion from strategy capable of sustaining a democracy movement.
#8. Citizen Activism. Vermont patent lawyer Jim Leas has produced as a private citizen and published a draft online, without an accompanying “donation” button, an article proposing that his state legislature focus on regulating the demand side of money in politics. See James Marc Leas, All by itself Vermont can overcome Citizens United, 40 Vermont L. Rev. __ (2016) (forthcoming May, 2016)). The handling of allegations of blatant corruption against Vermont’s Attorney General demonstrated the futility of using campaign finance law to regulate conflicts of interest.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court has decimated any possibility for effective state regulation of the supply side of money in state politics, at least until Congress acts to enforce the 11th Amendment, regulation of the demand side of political corruption should not be totally ignored as it has been since Buckley. To reform the demand side, the state legislature need only amend its existing conflict of interest recusal rules. The amendment would close the tacit, and unjustified, but customary exception accorded to special interest money given to politicians under the rubric of campaign contributions and expenditures.
This kind of money is broadly seen as corrupting in the public’s “view of how government really works. They see a nexus of money and power, greased by special interest lobbyists and large campaign donations.” The broad public can reasonably see politicians’ receipt of such contributions to be as corrupting and conflicted as receipt of any other kind of interested personal benefit. How then do legislators explain carving out an exemption for such conflicts, except as a result of their own conflicted interests concerning the matter? This reform will require a movement directed against the ethics of legislators themselves, and other elected officials.
Legislative conflict of interest recusal rules are supported unanimously by U.S. Supreme Court First Amendment jurisprudence. They are also walled off from judicial interference by general separation of powers doctrine, and state rules are potentially protected from federal judicial interference by the 11th Amendment. Such a rule also applies the common sense understanding that it is more efficient to keep tabs on the conflicts of interest of each individual elected official than it is to block the money that finds its way to them, or to some use for their benefit, through the multifarious, circuitous and leaky “Hydraulics of Campaign Finance” corruption. If it is true that “political money, like water, has to go somewhere” then regulate it at its known destination.
It is easier to draft, enact and enforce an ethics recusal rule than prohibitions against the various dark money, sham issue ads, “independent” coordination of expenditures and other deliberately arcane loopholes designed for maintaining the “hydraulic” flow of special interest money to or for politicians.
It is far easier to make that flow useless by tracking it through a consolidated disclosure data base and requiring by robust enforcement the recusal of the recipient from acting on any matter to which the purchased favors pertain under very ordinary conflict of interest principles. The ethically oblivious lawyer for the Attorney General wrote: “If giving a campaign contribution precludes the donor from any later business with the State, no business would ever contribute to any campaign.” This is the result the public wants, had the US Supreme Court not interfered.
As the result of his individual lobbying efforts Jim Leas has “heard from the Speaker of the Vermont House that he is sending the link [for the article] to the chair of the [House] government operations committee.” This is not much, yet. But then Jim has not asked anyone to click a petition to build a mailing list to which he could later send fundraising pitches, nor asked for money to help him perform this public service. Nevertheless he has arguably already succeeded far beyond any of the professional activists and scammers who routinely do such things.
Amendment Diversion Lacktivists have succeeded only in misleading people to simplistically ineffective and counter-productive strategies, for five years, thereby frustrating the development of any effective democracy movement as corruption has grown steadily worse without any scintilla of relevant success. Jim has pointed some state legislators to the most easily accomplished and at the same time most effective strategy for abolishing special interest money from politics. Jim has done this without selling a book, a website or spam advertisements seeking donations, or any of the trappings of the non-profit industrial complex that works this issue to its counterproductive ends.
Jim’s effort can be replicated in every state and also in Congress. His work is an example of the observation made by David Korten that “Every Great Social Movement begins with an idea carried forward through conversations that challenge and ultimately displace a prevailing cultural story” (pdf).
The prevailing story propagated by politicians and their lacktivist allies has focused attention away from the blatant conflicts of interests of the demand-side politicians themselves, solely onto futile piecemeal restraints on the supply side of money in politics, advocated through purely symbolic and practically useless rhetoric that an all-but-impossible constitutional amendment or ineffective piecemeal reform is the only real solution for blocking the supply hydraulics.
Jim Leas’ article changes the conversation to the demand side and advocates the easiest achievable normative reform. A strict conflict of interest recusal rule reform can leverage the power of one chamber of a bicameral legislative body to begin cleaning up the systemic corruption of all three branches of government.
#9. Thieves of State. One 2015 book makes this list because it demonstrates so well how systemic corruption affects important foreign policy and security concerns at the same time it demonstrates the depth and significance of systemic corruption of the U.S. government itself, in which Hillary Clinton was a central, even iconic, figure. An NYT reviewer said of Sarah Chayes, Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security (2015): “This is an important book that should be required reading for officials ….” It is also important reading for citizens seeking a strategic understanding of the relationship between systemic corruption and the endless wars pursued by corrupt U.S.elites.
Among the many insights into systemic corruption in her highly readable book, Chayes makes two separately important, but related points of strategic importance that connect foreign policy failure to domestic corruption.
1) Terrorism has become a distraction, competing for budgets and policy attention. The real priority issue that causes enormously more damage to the country than terrorism does or ever could cause is the systemic corruption of American government, and its consequent takeover by plutocracy. Chayes shows that throughout history and around the globe including specifically America’s longest war in Afghanistan, systemic political corruption breeds insurgencies. (By extremely loose definition, the powerful conduct of insurgency warfare has been conflated by the anti-terrorism industrial complex with the limited tactic of “terrorism”).
Chayes explains that “[systemically] corrupt governance doesn’t just aid terrorist organizations by driving indignant citizens into their arms; it provides haven and logistical support for those very same groups, as officials avert their eyes in exchange for a bribe,” or, as in the U.S., a campaign contribution from the NRA.
“Terrorism” is both generated by and feeds off systemic corruption. Counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) thus teaches that a systemically corrupt government cannot successfully defend itself against an insurgency, lacking support among the people. Nevertheless the systemically corrupt U.S. government continuously wastes the country’s blood and treasure fighting wars it cannot win on behalf of corrupt foreign governments. Meanwhile it fails to take the most effective action against terrorism of fighting corruption in those governments it controls because it ignores such realities as Chayes reports from her personal experience: “Afghan corruption was manufacturing Taliban.”
2) When offered the strategic opportunity to repurpose the American mission in Afghanistan to fight against corruption as the only means to conquer “terrorism” there, Hillary Clinton hopelessly failed to even understand the basic nature of systemic corruption and its relationship to insurgent “terrorism.” Clinton instead dealt with it as some quaint cultural artifact, constructing theory directly contrary to accepted knowledge about systemic corruption.
Chayes writes from her first-hand experience working for the Pentagon on the issue of corruption in Afghanistan. She reports from this unusual point of access, for a journalist, that, under Clinton, the State Department “was shirking its responsibility to develop a high level strategic approach to the most significant political and diplomatic challenge of this conflict.” Indeed Chayes shows that Clinton personally and successfully opposed effective anti-corruption work by any element of the U.S. government, getting what can only be called pro-corruption policy formally adopted in its stead.
Clinton’s role in deliberately perpetuating corruption in Afghanistan should irremediably disqualify her from the U.S. presidency. Afghanistan proves she cannot provide security against terrorism, a national budgetary, if not national security, priority. Clinton’s demonstrated lack of understanding about systemic corruption indicates that she is incapable of dealing with the United States’ priority domestic and foreign policy issue.
Since “they” do not relevantly “hate us for our values” but rather violently hate us for our corruption, which leads to our corrupting influence on their own countries, the solution to most of the U.S.’s expensive international problems is to uncorrupt itself first and then use the renewed soft-power influence which that transformation would provide in order to work against, rather than for, corruption abroad.
Anti-corruption must be a principle component of our domestic and foreign policy alike if we are to grasp the benefits of democracy. Clinton has proven herself incapable of undertaking this project in either sphere, and instead will waste more money and blood on yet more futile warmongering.
Chayes’ experience and insight suggests a corollary that could be added to COIN doctrine: “a systemically corrupt state cannot help another systemically corrupt state reform itself.”
Madison knew that “[i]f Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” Washington and other framers who followed Kant, the Scottish Enlightenment, and other proponents of democracy, as well as later practitioner/theorists such as Martin Van Buren and Charles Sumner all viewed democracy as the natural way to international peace. They understood that a true democracy will always be able to conduct peaceful relations with other democracies. Sumner said “War is known as the Last Reason of Kings; let it be no reason of our Republic,” p.79.
In the U.S. experience, a corrupted and corrupting democracy has been the way to perpetual war.
Just as democracy and peace are mutually reinforcing, perpetual war and perpetual corruption are mutually reinforcing. The concentrated power involved in conducting war corrupts; corruption undermines democracy, the surest way to peace.
* Readers are encouraged to help round out this list to the legendary length of click-bait lists by proposing a tenth development that meets the criteria stated above. This tenth position has been left open until re-publication of a revision of this article. It will be filled-in based on readers’ comments. What is not covered here is any digital democracy developments, that may be focused on organizing effectively for this key single issue. If a comment is well-supported, and consistent with the other nine, I will acknowledge the source of the suggestion for such a new # 10 top strategic development of 2015 in the country’s ongoing struggle between democracy and plutocracy.