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 occasion to assess its continuing impact.
The importance of the Buckley 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,enabled by
2) its systemically dysfunctional domestic and expensive foreign policies, caused by
3) the decline of democracy as a result of
4) systemically corrupt politics, to its root cause in
5) the Supreme Court's legalization of special interest money in politics.
As the charter for the nation's corrupt plutocratic tyranny, Buckley presents no opportunity for public celebration, flag waving and beer drinking. Indeed its apologists like to lie about its age/ They only talk about its manifestation in the six year old Citizens United, as if Buckley corruption were a recent phenomenon and one only restricted to corporations. The misplaced focus solely on their corporate conduits for corrupt pay-offs tends to take the heat off plutocrats themselves.
Perhaps plutocrats somewhere are discretely raising a fine single-malt to Buckley and its relative anonymity too. That Buckley has reached middle age and never felt stronger, or more dangerous, should not go unremarked by the rest of us. Bernie Sanders' historic leadership against the "corrupt campaign finance system which is undermining American democracy" is necessarily against Buckley which originated that system. There is no effective solution that does not eradicate Buckley's surreal concept that "money is speech."
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 bizarre "money=speech" formula. Some of the developments are positive, some odious; some are barely heard of, others obvious or well-known. 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 generation's rejection of the Joe McCarthy Era anti-communism cure as more dangerous and repulsive than the purported disease created an opening for extensive democratic advance across a broad front.
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 abuse, and for many other less remembered democratic reforms, such as the regulation of money in politics and abandoning the political boss system in favor of the primary based selection system for presidential candidates that Sanders is utilizing.
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 designed by elites to impose on Americans an asymmetric understanding of "freedom," one that frees plutocrats from the constraints of democracy while enslaving, or at least oppressing and impoverishing, the great majority. The judicial supremacists' novel formula equating money with speech converted "the freedom of speech" placed in the First Amendment to serve democracy into a freedom to corrupt and defraud in service of democracy's most dangerous and successful contemporary enemy, plutocratic tyranny. It's not ISIS.
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 without its consent. No terrorist could do that. But five plutocratic justices on the Supreme Court have.
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 currently controls the Supreme Court lack the professional stature to give their Constitution-distorting decrees any credibility.
Before the illegitimate and disaster-prone boy Bush put them on the Court because of their reliably plutocratic ideology, who ever heard of a John Roberts or a Samuel Alito at all, let alone about anything of value they ever did for their country or their even receiving one single vote for any public office? 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 and defraud that legitimizing consent by selling out the interests of the governed to corrupt political investors. Some too lazy or cowardly to step up to defend America's democratic legacy even believe the Court's theories, conveniently forgetting or rejecting the important and necessary successes of recurring democratic movements against a recrudescent tyranny usually led and enabled by the U.S.Supreme Court.
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 Buckley created. Not yet widely understood is an effective strategy for rebuilding a democratic community by getting corrupt private money and the corrupted politicians it buys 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 vetting and explanation. As might be expected from a political culture of systemic fraud and corruption, there is a small 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 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 which is the emergency brake on the system. Since the judiciary created the problem, that brake is disabled except for purposes of oppression. One recent book which does dwell on such details, nevertheless does also 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 generally knows, People need an effective strategy to restore democracy. The same book nevertheless seeks to use its reflected credibility from describing corruption to promote the fraudulent strategy called here the "Amendment Diversion" without justification of its numerous known defects. 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 reform proposals 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, the year which marked the last highpoint of equality before economic equality 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 felony fests.
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 in their origins.
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. It seems not to bother these voters that it incenses the plutocrats that Trump does not care much for the neo-con war party that Clinton embraces. Trump publicly denounced the Republican's Iraq war in strong terms, calling it "one of the great catastrophes of all time.... Declare victory and leave!" Clinton voted for it. Trump would like to get along with Russia, China and other countries -- negotiate deals rather than start the Third World War that Clinton would undoubtedly pick up where Obama leaves off. As a consequence Trump can credibly accuse Clinton of being "one of the worst secretaries of state" who "caused all this problem with her stupid policies."
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. 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.
(continued in Part 3 #5. Supreme Court, #6. Professional Activists: The Amendment Diversion., #7. Professional Activism: Piecemeal Reform., #8. Citizen Activism: Vermont., #9. Thieves of State.)