Citizens United · U.S. Politics


Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) |Getty

The Huffington Post

Bob Menendez Corruption Case Reads Like An Indictment Of Citizens United Ruling, Too

WASHINGTON — The indictment of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) on public corruption charges is the first bribery case involving the use of corporate political spending to support a candidate since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision allowed corporations to do just that.

Justice Anthony Kennedy declared in the 5-4 majority opinion that corporations should be free to spend unlimited sums on independent political activities since “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Those making independent expenditures “may have influence over or access to elected officials,” but that “does not mean those officials are corrupt,” Kennedy wrote.

The Department of Justice begs to differ. Menendez’s indictment on Wednesday specifically ties two $300,000 contributions from Dr. Salomon Melgen’s Vitreo-Retinal Consultants to an officially independent super PAC — donations that were earmarked for Menendez’s 2012 re-election effort — to actions that the senator took on behalf of Melgen’s business interests.

This is exactly the kind of behavior that Kennedy could not fathom happening.

The reality, as many warned after the Supreme Court’s ruling, is that most of the political spending unleashed by Citizens United is not independent. It abides by the narrow guidelines set out by the Federal Election Commission, but as the Menendez indictment and many other examples show, these actually allow much dependence.

Senate Majority PAC, the super PAC at the center of this scandal, is a prime example. The group was set up by top former aides to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), then the Senate majority leader, to help maintain a Democratic Senate majority, and Reid has attended dozens of donor events and fundraisers for the group. It is, in essence, an extension of his obligation as a political leader to protect or expand his party’s power.

The former aides who decamped to the super PAC or are otherwise tied to it remain in contact with Reid without violating the relatively loose rules on independence. Campaign donors and lobbyists operate as if contributing to Senate Majority PAC is just another piece of the influence-peddling puzzle. The Huffington Post has documented multiple super PACs run by close allies of congressional leaders that are fueled by contributions raised by lobbyists from clients seeking legislative action.

Melgen, the donor who supported Menendez, gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Senate Majority PAC while arguing with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services over charges that his company was overbilling the Medicare program. As the indictment makes clear, Melgen wanted the senator to intervene with Kathleen Sebelius, then-secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, to get her to overrule the agency.

To do so, Menendez allegedly roped in Reid, the most powerful Democrat on Capitol Hill. In August 2012, Reid, Menendez and Sebelius met, but the secretary said there was little she could do, according to the indictment. A Menendez staffer is quoted as calling the meeting “lively.”

In October, Melgen fired off his second $300,000 check to Senate Majority PAC. Like the first check, he routed this one through an unnamed fundraiser for Senate Majority PAC, dubbed Fundraiser 2 in the indictment.

Days later, Melgen wrote a memo detailing the latest information on his fight with CMS that yet again calls for Sebelius to overrule the agency. This memo was sent to Menendez’s staff and to Fundraiser 2, who is identified as a former Reid aide. According to the indictment, Fundraiser 2 replied that he or she would be seeing Reid the next day and would make sure Reid received the memo.

In essence, the fundraiser for Senate Majority PAC was acting as a go-between for legislative influence peddling by a major donor. Of course, the super PAC is still considered independent under current rules.

Details point to Fundraiser 2 being Jake Perry, the former Reid aide-turned-Senate Majority PAC co-founder and fundraiser. On Thursday, Senate Majority PAC announced that Fundraiser 2 would no longer be working with the group. When HuffPost asked a top consultant for the super PAC if Perry was Fundraiser 2, the consultant simply replied with that statement from Senate Majority PAC executive director Stephanie Potter. Calls and emails to Perry have not been returned.

Perry, whose bio at the lobbying firm Crossroads Strategies labels him a co-founder of Senate Majority PAC, told Politico in 2013, “I’m always going to be there for Sen. Reid whenever he needs me in any way. My first job in policy was with Sen. Reid and I’ll always be a phone call away if he ever needs me.”

In the aftermath of the indictment, Menendez has insisted that he was simply doing favors for a friend and that Melgen was doing the same. Perhaps it is true that the senator was just using taxpayer-funded congressional aides to help out a friend — and the largest funder of his 2012 re-election effort — to obtain visas for that friend’s girlfriends, maintain a contract with the Dominican Republic and try to influence an agency to allow overbilling of the government. That might be less illegal, but it doesn’t sound any less damning.

As for Kennedy and the four other justices who signed on to the Citizens United decision, they have argued that bought influence and paid-for access are not corruption for purposes of the law. According to the court, political corruption is defined legally as only the direct and explicit exchange of money for favors — quid pro quo bribery.

Wednesday’s indictment takes this definition of corruption and slams it up against the reality of independent expenditures’ influence. The result of Menendez’s case should go a long way to determining whether Citizens United has been indicted, too.


Occupied Washington

Mother Jones

Grotesque income inequality is just a symptom of our larger political disease.

A FEW WEEKS AFTER the Occupy Wall Street protests began, we found ourselves having a random conversation with a couple of San Franciscans at a store counter. What were these kids going on about? they asked. Time was tight, the inquiry a pleasantry, really. Best to keep it simple. “Jobs, the economy, income inequality.” Well, one offered, he knew the wife of Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, and according to him, the reason companies aren’t hiring is because they are worried about the extra cost of Obama’s health care reform.

Stunned silence.

Because what can you really say to that, except…let them eat cake? Stumpf made $17.6 million in 2010—672 times what the average American takes home. And say what you will about Obamacare, but for large companies that already offer health benefits, it imposes pretty much zero costs and might even save money.

But why single out Stumpf, who actually sounds fairly cuddly for a bank CEO? (His hobby is baking bread, for Christ’s sake.) Let’s turn instead to John Paulson, the billionaire hedge fund manager who unctuously admonished Occupy protesters: “Instead of vilifying our most successful businesses, we should be supporting them and encouraging them to remain in New York City and continue to grow.” Or how about the homeless-themed Halloween party thrown by an upstate New York foreclosure mill? Or the financier David Moore, who, having been dressed down by a panhandler for proffering only a dollar, took to the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages to bray about Obama’s class-warfare rhetoric: “The president’s incendiary message has now reached the streets. His complaints that rich people must ‘pay their fair share’ have now goaded some of our society’s most unfortunate.”

Continue here…

Ethics · GOP Hubris · GOP Hypocrisy · Virginia Lamp Thomas

Clarence Thomas’ Ethics Problems, Then and Now

Justice Clarence Thomas has been noted for having the least to say during arguments before the Supreme Court.  It seems he never asks questions of the plaintiff nor the defendant when any given case is argued before The Court.

One has to wonder…is he that stupid or does he have something to hide, knowing that if he made one mistake, he’d be held up to scrutiny by the press and by a country full of bloggers, like myself.

Let me be clear, I do not like Clarence Thomas.  I do not like how Senate Republicans did everything they could to undermine Anita Hill and make HER look like the guilt party at the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings nineteen years ago.  Having said that…

The Nation

Why now? What, after almost twenty years, prompted Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to leave a message on Brandeis professor Anita Hill’s office voicemail asking her to apologize for accusing Justice Thomas of sexual harassment during his 1991 confirmation hearings?

The timing was interesting. Ginni Thomas placed her call to Hill the morning after the New York Times reported that Virginia Thomas’s new Liberty Central organization accepted “large, unidentified contributions” totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those untraceable dollars came in the flood of right-wing funding following the Citizens United campaign finance decision, in which Justice Thomas voted with the majority. The Times reported that a wide range of legal ethicists said Liberty Central’s financing raises “knotty questions” about a conflict of interest for Justice Thomas.


It is now nearly forgotten that Thomas’s ethics record gave Hill’s accusation traction. Briefly a federal appeals judge, and before that a Reagan operative charged with undercutting civil rights enforcement, Thomas had a long habit of telling untruthful stories. As the late civil rights scholar Haywood Burns, dean of the law school at City University of New York, testified during the ’91 hearings before Hill’s accusations surfaced, Thomas’s testimony and record were marked by “a lack of candor, compassion and ethical judgment.”

Reporting to Congress as head of the EEOC, Thomas misrepresented his agency’s nonenforcement of age discrimination law. As a federal judge he sat on an appeals court review of the criminal conviction of Col. Oliver North, despite having spoken out in support of North’s actions in the Iran/Contra scandal. He failed to recuse himself from a case involving his political patron, Senator John Danforth.

To score points, Thomas even lied about his sister: falsely describing her in speeches as pathetically welfare dependent, a mocking depiction utterly at odds with the proud and hard existence of a woman who worked a series of minimum-wage jobs for most of her life to support her family.

Perhaps Ginni Thomas’s phone call was a smokescreen—an attempted distraction from the reporting on Liberty Central’s funding. Maybe it was unrelated. Either way, twenty years later it bears remembering that Hill’s accusations were not just a matter of “she said, he said.” Hill, in 1991, testified as a credible witness of unquestioned probity.

Thomas had a documented ethics problem then—and, it appears, an ongoing ethics problem now. Back then, Thomas’s truth problem obscured his shameful role in undoing the very civil rights tradition that made his nomination possible. Today, the Thomases’ evocation of that old episode obscures an ethically challenged Supreme Court justice complicit in handing American politics over to corporations and anonymous far-right donors—that is the real scandal.

Karl Rove · Republican House Takeover · Republicans · The United States Supreme Court

Distort, Mislead and Lie Are Traditional Rovian Tactics – A Series of Layered Deceptions

Karl Rove has his slimy fingerprints all over the U.S. Chamber of Commerce campaign finance fiasco.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that he was the master manipulator behind the Citizens United case, which was the catalyst for all the secret campaign financing we are witnessing today.

Washington Monthly

A SERIES OF LAYERED DECEPTIONS…. As the midterm election season nears its completion, one of the key debates of October is over millions of dollars in undisclosed contributions, some of which may be coming from foreign governments. Americans have been left with a wild-west-style campaign finance system, and it’s getting uglier with each passing day.

At the center of the fiasco is Karl Rove, ostensibly a “media professional,” who also helped create two of the largest partisan attack operations of the year, funded by secret donors. Indeed, while Rove is spending tens of millions of dollars to buy elections with undisclosed money for Republicans, he’s also lying rather shamelessly about the larger campaign finance dynamic that’s unfolding this cycle.

And if that was all, it’d be pretty awful. But Greg Sargent reminds us today that Rove isn’t just lying to the public and the media about campaign financing, he’s also lying to voters in the ads he’s helping finance.

Here’s something important that’s getting lost in the firefight over the money funding the ads by the U.S. Chamber and Karl Rove’s groups: Many of the ads themselves have been debunked by independent fact checkers as false, grossly misleading, or marred with distortions.

I’ve compiled a list below, and the totality is striking. Thus far the media focus has understandably been on the flap over the White House’s foreign money charges. But there’s another big part of the story that’s going undercovered: The scope of the dishonesty and distortion that’s flowing from the conservative side of this debate.

Not only are the ads themselves getting widely debunked, but the justifications the groups are offering for the ad onslaught (that liberals and labor do this too) are also demonstrably false or misleading. We’re witnessing a massive disinformation campaign flooding airwaves across the country that could change the outcome of major races and shift the balance of power in Congress, funded by money from undisclosed sources, justified with still more falsehoods and disinformation.

 Greg ran a list of Senate campaign ads — some financed by Rove’s attack operations, some by the Chamber — and literally all of them include demonstrable falsehoods.

The layers of deception are getting tough to keep up with. But the bottom line remains the same: Karl Rove and his fellow GOP hatchetmen are raking in obscene amounts of undisclosed money, using it to lie to voters, all the while lying about the campaign finance fiasco that’s allowing them to buy an election cycle.

Greg concluded, “[T]he sheer scale and dimension of dishonesty and distortion coming from the conservative side of this debate is a very big part of the story. And it’s largely going untold.”

The Young Turks · Thom Hartmann

The Young Turks Interview Thom Hartmann: “Are Corporations People?”

The recent controversial  Supreme Court ruling of  Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission  has allegedly answered the question “are corporations people?”

However, Thom Hartmann, radio personality and author disagrees.  Here is why: