Sunday, February 22, 2015

Money, money, money

Hillary’s Corporate Cronyism:
State Department for Sale, Perfectly Legal

Hillary Clinton, as former Secretary of State, near-certain Presidential candidate, and through her family’s Clinton Foundation, has perfected to a fine art the legalized bribery and pay-to-play corporate cronyism that powers Washington politics.

The Wall Street Journal yesterday reported that corporate giants, such as General Electric, Boeing, Exxon Mobil and Microsoft, have been able to enlist the State Department as their private marketing department and Mrs. Clinton has been able to shake down these companies for millions in cash to boost her personal standing.

The Journal found that of 425 corporate donors to the Clinton Foundation, the 60 who lobbied the State Department during her four years as Secretary contributed $26 million.

Before every overseas diplomatic trip, Undersecretary of State and former Goldman Sachs investment banker Robert Hormats prepared a list of corporate interests for Mrs. Clinton to shill.

In one instance in 2009, Mrs. Clinton flew to Russia to pump sales for Boeing. Seven months later, Russia purchased $3.7 billion worth of the company’s jets. Two months later, Boeing made its first contribution to the Clinton Foundation, $900,000.

In 2012, Mrs. Clinton flew to Bulgaria, specifically to lobby its Parliament on behalf of Chevron to reverse a ban on natural gas fracking.  While Bulgaria did not reverse its policy, in 2013, Chevron gave $250,000 to the Clinton Foundation.

In another instance reported by the Journal, in 2012, Mrs. Clinton went to bat for GE to persuade Algeria (successfully) to purchase its power plants.  One month later, GE made its first contribution to the Clinton Foundation.

While campaign finance regulations prohibit foreign governments from giving money to candidates, both before and after Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, 28 foreign governments have given a combined $51 million to the Clinton Foundation, knowing full well that she is the likely Democratic nominee for President.  Saudi Arabia has given at least $10 million to the Clinton Foundation.

It’s time to fix Washington’s corrupt political money system. Both national and international policy is for sale to the highest bidder and politicians like Hillary Clinton can get very, very rich and maintain a lifetime career in politics by extorting those with an interest in those policies. All of this is legal and this system of corruption involves both parties.

Here in New Hampshire, many on the left and right support passage of HCR2 which, if passed in 34 states, would launch an Article V convention of the states tasked with crafting an amendment to the Constitution to address rampant legalized political bribery and extortion.  Any amendment proposed by a convention must then be ratified by at least 38 states, a high bar designed by the framers to weed out any constitutional changes not supported by a broad supermajority of Americans.

I urge you to call your Rep, respectfully and briefly asking them to support the House State-Federal Relations Committee recommendation to pass both HCR2 and HCR3 (which would launch a convention to propose amendments relative to fiscal restraint, term limits, and enhanced federalism).

Thanks for listening,

Jim Rubens


Feb. 19, 2015 10:30 p.m. ET

Among recent secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton was one of the most aggressive global cheerleaders for American companies, pushing governments to sign deals and change policies to the advantage of corporate giants such as General Electric Co. , Exxon MobilCorp. , Microsoft Corp. and Boeing Co.
At the same time, those companies were among the many that gave to the Clinton family’s global foundation set up by her husband, former President Bill Clinton. At least 60 companies that lobbied the State Department during her tenure donated a total of more than $26 million to the Clinton Foundation, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of public and foundation disclosures.
As Mrs. Clinton prepares to embark on a race for the presidency, she has a web of connections to big corporations unique in American politics—ties forged both as secretary of state and by her family’s charitable interests. Those relationships are emerging as an issue for Mrs. Clinton’s expected presidential campaign as income disparity and other populist themes gain early attention.
Indeed, Clinton Foundation money-raising already is drawing attention. “To a lot of progressive Democrats, Clinton’s ties to corporate America are disturbing,” says Jack Pitney, a politics professor at Claremont McKenna College who once worked for congressional Republicans. Mrs. Clinton’s connections to companies, he says, “are a bonanza for opposition researchers because they enable her critics to suggest the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
The Wall Street Journal identified the companies involved with both Clinton-family charitable endeavors and with Mrs. Clinton’s State Department by examining large corporate donations to the Clinton Foundation, then reviewing lobbying-disclosure reports filed by those companies. At least 44 of those 60 companies also participated in philanthropic projects valued at $3.2 billion that were set up though a wing of the foundation called the Clinton Global Initiative, which coordinates the projects but receives no cash for them.
Mrs. Clinton’s connections to the companies don’t end there. As secretary of state, she created 15 public-private partnerships coordinated by the State Department, and at least 25 companies contributed to those partnerships. She also sought corporate donations for another charity she co-founded, a nonprofit women’s group called Vital Voices.
Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman, Nick Merrill, says: “She did the job that every secretary of state is supposed to do and what the American people expect of them—especially during difficult economic times. She proudly and loudly advocated on behalf of American business and took every opportunity she could to promote U.S. commercial interests abroad.”
Corporate donations to politically connected charities aren’t illegal so long as they aren’t in exchange for favors. There is no evidence of that with the Clinton Foundation.
In some cases, donations came after Mrs. Clinton took action that helped a company. In other cases, the donation came first. In some instances, donations came both before and after. All of the companies mentioned in this article said their charitable donations had nothing to do with their lobbying agendas with Mrs. Clinton’s State Department.
Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, visited a Boeing design center in Moscow in 2009.ENLARGE
Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, visited a Boeing design center in Moscow in 2009.PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS
President Barack Obama ’s transition team worried enough about potential problems stemming from Clinton-organization fundraising while Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state that it asked Mr. Clinton to quit raising money from foreign governments for the Clinton Global Initiative and to seek approval for paid speaking engagements, which he did. The transition team didn’t put limits on corporate fundraising.
The foundation resumed soliciting foreign governments after Mrs. Clinton left the State Department. The official name of the foundation was changed to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation. Mrs. Clinton became a director. All told, the Clinton Foundation and its affiliates have collected donations and pledges from all sources of more than $1.6 billion, according to their tax returns. On Thursday, the foundation said that if Mrs. Clinton runs for president, it would consider whether to continue accepting foreign-government contributions as part of an internal policy review.
“The Clinton Foundation has raised hundreds of millions that it claims is for charitable causes, but clearly overlaps with Hillary Clinton’s political ambitions,” said Tim Miller, director of America Rising PAC, a conservative group that has targeted Mrs. Clinton.

Foundation spokesman Craig Minassian says the group’s work helps millions around the world and its donors have a history of supporting such work. “So when companies get involved with the Clinton Foundation it’s for only one reason, because they know our work matters,” he says.
In her book, “Hard Choices,” Mrs. Clinton said one of her goals at the State Department was “placing economics at the heart of our foreign policy.” She wrote: “It was clearer than ever that America’s economic strength and our global leadership were a package deal.”
Matthew Goodman, a former Clinton State Department official who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, says Mrs. Clinton is the first secretary of state to make economics such a focus since George C. Marshall, who helped rebuild postwar Europe.
Economic Statecraft
That approach, which Mrs. Clinton called “economic statecraft,” emerged in discussions with Robert Hormats, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. investment banker who has worked in Democratic and Republican administrations and became an undersecretary of state. “One of the very first items was, how do we strengthen the role of the State Department in economic policy?” he says.
The focus positioned Mrs. Clinton to pursue not just foreign-policy results, but domestic economic ones.
Early in Mrs. Clinton’s tenure, according to Mr. Hormats, Microsoft’s then Chief Research Officer Craig Mundie asked the State Department to send a ranking official to a fourth annual meeting of U.S. software executives and Chinese government officials about piracy and Internet freedom. Mr. Hormats joined the December 2009 meeting in Beijing.
Since 2005, Microsoft has given the Clinton Global Initiative $1.3 million, in addition to free software, according to the foundation.
In 2011, Microsoft launched a three-year initiative coordinated by the Clinton Global Initiative to provide free or discounted software and other resources to students and teachers—a commitment Microsoft estimated to be worth $130 million.
Mr. Hormats says there was no relation between Microsoft’s donations and the State Department’s participation in the China conference.
In 2012, the Clinton Foundation approached GE about working together to expand a health-access initiative the company had launched four years earlier, says a GE spokeswoman.
That same year, Mrs. Clinton lobbied for GE to be selected by the Algerian government to build power plants in that country. She went to Algiers that October and met with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. “I saw an opportunity for advancing prosperity in Algeria and seizing an opportunity for American business,” she explained in her book.
A month after Mrs. Clinton’s trip, the Clinton Foundation announced the health-initiative partnership with GE, the company’s first involvement with the foundation. GE eventually contributed between $500,000 and $1 million to the partnership.
The following September, GE won the contracts with the Algerian government, saying they marked “some of its largest power agreements in company history.”
Mrs. Clinton championed U.S. energy companies and launched an office to promote overseas projects. Many of those efforts were focused in Eastern and Central Europe, where she saw energy development as a hedge against Russia’s dominance in oil and gas. Companies that had interests in those areas included Exxon Mobil and Chevron Corp.
One effort, the Global Shale Gas Initiative, promoted hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a technique perfected by U.S. companies. In 2010, Mrs. Clinton flew to Krakow to announce a Polish-American cooperation on a global shale-gas initiative, according to her book. At the time, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted abundant deposits of shale gas in Poland.
After pursuing shale-gas projects in Poland, Exxon Mobil gave up a few years later, and Chevron said late last month it would abandon its Poland project.
In 2012, Mrs. Clinton flew to Sofia, Bulgaria, and urged the Bulgarian Parliament to reconsider its moratorium on fracking and its withdrawal of Chevron’s five-year exploration license. A few months later, the government allowed conventional gas exploration, but not fracking. Chevron left Bulgaria in 2012.
Ben Schreiber of the environmental group Friends of the Earth says: “We’ve long been concerned about the ties that Hillary Clinton has to the oil-and-gas industry.”
Both Exxon and Chevron are supporters of the Clinton Foundation. Chevron donated $250,000 in 2013. A Chevron spokesman said the Clinton charity “is one of many programs and partnerships that the company has had or maintains across a number of issue areas and topics pertinent to our business.”
Exxon Mobil has given about $2 million to the Clinton Global Initiative, starting in 2009. Since 2007, Exxon Mobil also has given $16.8 million to Vital Voices, the nonprofit women’s group co-founded by Mrs. Clinton, according to the group’s spokeswoman.
An Exxon Mobil spokesman said the donations were made to support work on issues Exxon Mobil has long championed, such as programs to fight malaria and empower women. “That is the sole motivation for our support of charitable programs associated with the Clintons,” he said. “We did not seek or receive any special consideration on the Shale Gas Initiative.”
In October 2009, Mrs. Clinton went to bat for aerospace giant Boeing, which was seeking to sell jets to Russia, by flying to Moscow to visit the Boeing Design Center. “I made the case that Boeing’s jets set the global gold standard, and, after I left, our embassy kept at it,” she wrote in her book.
About seven months later, in June 2010, Russia agreed to purchase 50 Boeing 737s for $3.7 billion, choosing Boeing over Europe’s Airbus Group NV.
Two months later, Boeing made its first donation to the Clinton Foundation—$900,000 to help rebuild Haiti’s public-education system. Overall, Boeing has contributed around $1.1 million to the Clinton Foundation since 2010.
A Boeing spokeswoman said it is routine for U.S. officials to advocate on behalf of businesses such as Boeing. “U.S. businesses face fierce global competition, and oftentimes an unlevel playing field in the global marketplace,” she said in a written statement. “Secretary Clinton did nothing for Boeing that former U.S. presidents and cabinet secretaries haven’t done for decades, or that their foreign counterparts haven’t done on behalf of companies like Airbus.”
Before every overseas trip, says Mr. Hormats, the former undersecretary of state, he helped prepare a list of U.S. corporate interests for Mrs. Clinton to advocate while abroad.
During Mrs. Clinton’s three trips to India, she urged the government to kill a ban on stores that sell multiple brands, a law aimed at department stores or big-box retailers such asWal-Mart Stores Inc.
“It wasn’t just Wal-Mart,” Mr. Hormats says. “It was the whole point of multibrand retail. Wal-Mart was, of course, the biggest.”
Mrs. Clinton served on the board of the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer between 1986 and 1992, when her husband was governor of that state, and the law firm she worked for at the time represented the company. Wal-Mart has donated nearly $1.2 million to the Clinton Foundation for a program that issues grants to student-run charitable projects. The company also has paid more than $370,000 in membership fees to the foundation since 2008, according to a Wal-Mart spokesman.
Trip to India
Before Mrs. Clinton’s official trip to India in 2012, Wal-Mart Chief Executive Mike Duke joined her at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, to pledge $12 million to help women in Latin America. The donation included $1.5 million in grants to 55,000 women entrepreneurs through the International Fund for Women and Girls, one of the 15 public-private partnerships Mrs. Clinton created at the State Department, and $500,000 for Vital Voices, the charity she co-founded.
“We committed to helping women around the world live better,” Mr. Duke said at the time. “By working with leaders like Secretary Clinton, we’re bringing that mission to life.”
One month later, Mrs. Clinton traveled to India to make the case against the ban on retail stores such as Wal-Mart. Then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had proposed allowing companies such as Wal-Mart to invest up to 51% directly in local multibrand retailers, but one of his allies, Mamata Banerjee, a regional governor, opposed the idea. Ms. Banerjee’s support was key to Mr. Singh’s majority in Parliament.
Mrs. Clinton met with Ms. Banerjee to press the matter. She also said in a speech in West Bengal that U.S. retailers could bring an “enormous amount of expertise” to India in areas ranging from supply-chain management to working with small producers and farmers. Her lobbying was unsuccessful.
A Wal-Mart spokesman said the retailer had lobbied the State Department on the issue, which he said was one of dozens of topics important to the business.
After Mrs. Clinton’s India trip, her husband asked Mr. Duke, Walmart’s CEO, to change his schedule to appear at the opening panel of the Clinton Global Initiative. Mr. Duke agreed.
Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at

Our governance in the United States

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell are taking the lead in highly publicized lawsuits against State Farm and other major insurance companies, alleging they “steer” body shops toward “sub-par”parts. This has prompted Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal to consider getting the Department of Justice to investigate. See Autobody News, "Industry Responds to CNN Segment Exposing How Major Insurance Companies “Steer” Body Shops Toward “Sub-par” Parts", February 16, 2015.

Last October, Hood issued a 79 page subpoena to Google alleging violations of the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act. This led Google, in December, to file a suit in federal court in Jackson, Mississippi, to block Hood's probe. See Fortune, Google sues to block state AG Jim Hood’s probe, December 19, 2014.

In December, Rep. Henry Waxman, Senator Dick Durbin, and Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. wrote a letter to Attorney General Hood, asking for his help in getting electronic cigarettes covered under the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. See their Letter, dated December 19, 2914,

Earlier this month, the Mississippi House of Representatives rejected a bill that would require the Mississippi Attorney General to get the approval of the governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state for the attorney general to file any lawsuit in which the state could win more than $250,000.
WTVA TV Tupelo Columbus, Bill fails that would limit attorney general's power to sue, February 4, 2015. See also Straight Out of Rosedale: Mississippi’s Sudden Interest in Limiting State Lawsuits While Google Sues Attorney General Jim Hood

In February, Hood announced that Mississippi would get an additional millions as part of a national settlement with the Standard & Poor's credit rating agency over allegations that it knowingly inflated ratings of risky mortgage investments ATTORNEY GENERAL HOOD RECOVERS ABOUT $76 MILLION TO DATE FOR MISSISSIPPI FROM FINANCIAL AND MORTGAGE CRISIS

The BP gulf oil spill is nearing its fifth anniversary. Near the 2013 third anniversary Hood acted to make Mississippi the third state to sue BP. The New York Times, Mississippi Suing BP Over Gulf Oil Spill, April 19, 2013. News at the current stage include indictments and convictions of persons who made fraudulent claims. FBI Birmingham division press release, Conspirators in Gulf Oil Spill Fund Fraud Sentenced, January 15, 2015. Also, BP continues embattled. The Columbian, BP urges judges to remove head of oil spill settlement fund, February 3, 2015. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

MAYDAY: T minus 25 days

It is 25 days until MAYDAY.US launches stage two of its plan to build a government of, by and for the people.

Monday, February 9, 2015

For Auburn University

To interested members of the Auburn University community (including the political science and history departments and student political groups):

Last fall, I endeavored to get a political symposium to be held at one of the Birmingham area universities and colleges. My suggested symposium title was "The Condition of Our Federal Government, Campaign Finance, and Freedom of Speech." See Trying to get local Symposium before Nov. 4th and Extension of Solicitation of Symposium before Nov. 4th.

"Money in politics" is a subject that is gathering much attention around the country. 

Last month, it cropped up in Auburn, in the form of a new organization named Take Back Our Republic, having contact info: Address: 246 East Glenn Avenue, Auburn, AL 36830; Phone: 334-329-7258; Email: (See Auburn, AL steps out!.)

I hope this new organization will take steps to publicize the "money in politics" subject to the Auburn University community.

I am taking this opportunity to do the same and to pass along this information  to the attention of potentially interested members of the Auburn University community, with a view that they may be motivated to have a symposium or other forum, in which there could be discussion in the vein of the aforementioned suggested title of "The Condition of Our Federal Government, Campaign Finance, and Freedom of Speech."

Thank you.

Update Feb. 10th
I am following up on the solicitations I made last fall of Birmingham-Southern College, Samford University, UAB, University of Montevallo, and University of Alabama to have a symposium.

[Below is a symposium being held at Fordham University in March. The symposium is expansive on the subject of corruption and would appear to include the corruption of campaign finance, which is the prime interest of Professors Lessig and Teachout.]

Fighting Corruption in America and Abroad: Fordham Law Review Symposium 2015

Corruption photo

Fighting Corruption in America and Abroad

Friday, March 6, 2015

Fordham University School of law
Skadden Conference Center
150 West 62nd Street

9:00 a.m.—4:30 p.m.

For full schedule and registration:

This full-day symposium will focus on defining corruption and initiatives to regulate it within the United States, internationally, and in foreign countries. The symposium will include a keynote address delivered by Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and four panel discussions among legal academics, prosecutors, defense lawyers, economists, and political philosophers.
Keynote address:
Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York

Panels and confirmed participants:
What is corruption?—How Should We Define It, and Why Is It Bad? 
Richard L. Hasen, Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science, University of California Irvine School of Law

M. Todd Henderson, Micheal J. Marks Professor of Law and Aaron Director Teaching Scholar, University of Chicago Law School

Lawrence Lessig, Roy L. Furman Professor of Law, Faculty Director, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University

Zephyr Teachout, Associate Professor of Law, Fordham University School of Law

Landmark Domestic Bribery Prosecutions

Albert Alschuler, Professor of Law, Northwestern University; Julius Kreeger Professor Emeritus of Law and Criminology, University of Chicago

Joon Kim, Director, Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York

Susan Lerner, Executive Director, Common Cause New York

Corruption Regulation in Practice via the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act

Lanny Breuer, Partner, Covington & Burling LLP

Jay Holtmeier, Partner, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP

Mike Koehler, Assistant Professor of Law, Southern Illinois University School of Law

Lucinda Low, Partner, Steptoe & Johnson LLP

The Political Economy of Global Corruption Regulation

Thomas Lee, Leitner Family Professor of International Law and Director of Graduate and International Studies, Fordham University School of Law

Jeffrey Sachs, Director of The Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University

Laura Underkuffler, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and J. DuPratt White Professor of Law, Cornell University Law School

This program is free and open to the public.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Will you support my campaign?

Congress is failing to do its job properly for the American people, and Congressman Palmer is failing the Alabama 6th Congressional district.

My evidence for Congressman Palmer's failure is his unwillingness to answer my question about whether Congress is "broke," as propounded at Just answer the question, Gary Palmer.

He has simply been silent for more than nine months and continues to be silent.

One possibility is that Congressman Palmer thinks the question of whether Congress is failing to do its job for the American people does not seriously raise anything that needs consideration by him or his constituents, and answering the question is a waste of his and their time. Hence, he will not give an answer.

On the other hand, if Congressman Palmer chose to break his silence, there are several possible things he could reasonably say.

One thing he could say is he thinks Congress is not working perfectly, but that the problems are minor, there are much more pressing matters for the attention of Congress, and Congress and the country should not be diverted at this time by minor problems in the way Congress is working.

Congressman Palmer could alternatively say that Congress is failing to do its job properly for the American people because of the Democrats, and what the American people need to do is elect more Republicans to Congress.

Congressman Palmer might say other things are needed to fix Congress to get it working properly. He could indicate what those other things are and how needed changes could be accomplished for the American people. (I believe Congressman Palmer is supporting term limits, and, if he thinks that is what is needed to fix Congress for the American people, he could say so in answer to my question.)

Congressman Palmer could even choose to say, yes, Congress is "broke," but it cannot be fixed, or that he does not have a diagnosis of why it is "broke" and hence does not have a recommendation for how to fix Congress.

I have my view that Congressman Palmer's unwillingness to say one way or another (or say anything) whether he thinks Congress is "broke" or not indicates that he is hiding something from his constituents, and that is badly failing the 6th Congressional district.

You need to decide your own view about Congressman Palmer's refusal to say anything in response to me.

I am continuing my campaign to try to get Congressman Palmer to answer my question.

I hope you will support my campaign.

If you want to support my campaign, there are already suggestions in this blog of things to do, such as those you can find via this link Manifesto for AL 6th Congressional district voters.

I expect to have more suggestions as time goes by.

Friday, January 30, 2015

More for Alabama small business

The below ELECTION INTEGRITY discussion is copied and pasted from the website of the American Sustainable Business Council.

Please read the discussion. Then please also read these blog entries: (i) For BCA small business members; (ii) Small business and money in politics; (iii) More on Congress failing small business; and (iv) Letter to Birmingham Business Journal.

Then ask yourself how well you think the Business Council of Alabama, the Birmingham Business Alliance, and other local chambers of commerce in Alabama are speaking on this topic for you.

Thank you.


Election Integrity
Our democratic system of government can only succeed when elections are open and fair, all citizens can fully participate, and special interests are not allowed to corrupt the system or exert undue influence.
All economic activity exists within a marketplace that is itself defined by laws enacted through the democratic process. If the institutions of democracy are not healthy, the structures of our markets cannot be healthy and our economy will suffer. We see this in other nations where concentration of power leads to pervasive corruption and self-dealing across the economy. This stifles innovation, inhibits entrepreneurship, and causes extremes of wealth and poverty that destabilize society.
The greatest menace to election integrity in America today is how easily unlimited money, cloaked in secrecy, is brought into that system. Unlimited, secret money buys votes in elections, influences votes by legislators once they are elected, and disables the regulatory process by dangling irresistible job offers and consulting contracts in front of officials charged with regulating vital economic activity.
ASBC is committed to building the institutions of a sustainable economy, which depend on policies that foster responsive, open, and democratic government. We work to reverse the undue influence of money in our governing institutions. To achieve these goals we must:
  • Staunch the torrent of money into politics unleashed by the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions.
  • Create more transparency to reveal who is pouring money into politics and where that money is going.
  • Prevent corporations from seeking business or favorable judgments from the parts of government in which they are investing
  • Actively promote voter registration on a non-partisan basis, through the workplace and other venues.
  • Prohibit undemocratic rules and voter registration practices that restrict Americans’ rights to participate freely and fully in elections.
  • Block the regulatory revolving door that makes it easy to corrupt and co-opt officials who hold important regulatory positions.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Conservatives and Citizens United

A Case for Reform

Conservatives should take a principled stand against Citizens United.

Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, as the court heard arguments on campaign finance. The Supreme Court is tackling a challenge to limits on contributions by the biggest individual donors to political campaigns. The case being argued at the high court Tuesday is a test of the Roberts court's readiness to take its most aggressive swipe at campaign finance laws since its Citizens United decision in 2010 took the lid off independent spending by corporations and labor unions.
What would the founders think?
Conservatives can take a principled stand against the undue influence of money in elections. In the late 1990s, the Stuart Family Foundation, where I serve as executive director, took such a stand. At that time the soft-money loophole was corrupting Congress and undermining public faith in the integrity of elections. The Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 (otherwise known as the McCain-Feingold Act), which passed with considerable Republican support, helped to restore this faith. But five years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which permitted corporations and outside groups to spend unlimited sums in elections, another package of reforms is urgently needed.
Currently, few conservative thinkers support reform, yet without conservative support nothing further can be achieved. What might be done to shape a new consensus?
Contemporary American conservatism exhibits a welcome re-engagement with the political philosophy of the American founding. Conservatives are rightly convinced that neglect of founding principles accounts for many of the country’s present difficulties. This has a direct bearing upon conservatives' attitudes towards federal regulation of political spending. They will reject any law that does not seem consonant with our original constitutional thought or which seems motivated merely by the passions of the day.
Accordingly, if they are to consider the merits of reform, conservatives must be encouraged to reassess their position in light of those same founding principles. There are at least three ways this might be done.
The first is an appeal to conservative suspicion of concentrated power. As James Madison noted in the Federalist No. 10, "Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests of the people." Conservatives are prone to emphasize Madison’s concern with majority abuse of private rights.  Madison, however, saw in republican government a threat both to private right and to the public good. Without contending factions, he maintained, both are likely to be abused. In the logic of Madison’s Federalist No. 10, Citizens United has arguably given one particular type of faction disproportionate power over the outcome of federal elections. 
Unfettered and undisclosed corporate spending also threatens limited government by opening the door to rent-seeking and cronyism. Politically connected companies create business for themselves with taxpayer money and tilt the markets in their favor. This in turn enables the problem-solving, expansionist vision of government that Republicans are so determined to roll back. 
Second, conservatives must be confronted with the reality of corruption. No system of campaign finance precludes corruption. But some systems are better than others, and the evidence will soon mount that runaway spending from individuals and corporations will increase quid pro quo corruption in Congress, just as the soft-money loophole demonstrably did. We send our lawmakers to Washington to represent their constituencies in deliberation, not to execute the pre-scripted errands of a few wealthy contributors.
Third, conservatives must be reminded of their past support for disclosure of the sources of political contributions – a principle upheld by the Roberts court and widely affirmed, until quite recently, by most Republicans, even by many who opposed the McCain-Feingold Act. Without disclosure, it is not possible for voters to decide for themselves whether a given candidate has merely done the bidding of the particular interests that filled the campaign war chest. Moreover, conservative commentators claim that corporate spending in campaigns after Citizens United will be checked by fear of alienating customers. That restraint can only operate if corporate contributions are disclosed.
In short, the task is to remind conservatives that their own political convictions – including their reverence for the philosophy of the founding – commend reform.
If conservatives continue to insist that unlimited, undisclosed contributions from corporations and individuals pose no threat to the integrity of government, sooner or later they will be embarrassed by the reality of corruption. Rather than seeming principled, they will appear hidebound at best, or at worst complicit. This would be a great loss because renewed interest in our founding political philosophy is one of the best hopes we have of restoring public trust in government.