Political corruption and voting in the U.S.

New York’s primaries are this coming Tuesday. In honor of them − and to urge everyone to vote because it is the one absolute and guaranteed way we ordinary citizens can defeat the political corruption supported by five members of our current Supreme Court − here are some excerpts from Jill Lepore’s “The Crooked And The Dead: Does the Constitution protect corruption?” in the August 25, 2014 New Yorker.

I’ve bolded some excerpts that are, to me, particularly stunning and timeless, some of which will make you gnash your teeth:

…the political consultant Mark McKinnon and the Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig are using the deregulation of the campaign-finance system to raise what they hope will be an overwhelming amount of bi-partisan money from small and big donors to get both Democratic and Republican reformers elected to Congress, so that they can support efforts regulating the very spending that got them elected. Lessig and McKinnon have launched a Super PAC called Mayday, one of whose objectives is to make Super PACs illegal. Lessig says, “Embrace the irony.” Tragedy, more like.

In 1894, Elihu Root proposed an amendment to New York’s constitution, banning “great aggregations of wealth” − corporations − “from using their corporate funds, directly or indirectly to send members of the legislature to these halls, in order to vote for their protection and the advancement of their interests as against those of the public.” The amendment failed but Root kept the issue on the agenda when he helped Theodore Roosevelt campaign for mayor of New York, in 1886, and for governor, in 1898. In 1905, when Roosevelt was President (Root served as his Secretary of State), he told Congress, “All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law.”

“So long as great corporations are permitted to send their checks for $50,000 to campaign committee Treasurers we shall have, or be in great danger of having, a Government of the corporations, not a Government of the people,” the editors of the New York Times, a Democratic newspaper wrote [in 1904]. The city’s leading Republican paper, the Tribune, went further:

In the United States the government is intended to be a government of men. A corporation is not a citizen with a right to vote or take a hand otherwise in politics. It is an artificial creation, brought into existence by favor of the State solely to perform the functions allowed by its charter. Interference by it with the State and attempts by it to exercise rights of citizenship are fundamentally a perversion of its power. Its stockholders, no matter how wise or how rich, should be forced to exercise their political influence as individuals on a equality with other men. That is the basic principle of democracy.

…the Tillman Act was the subject of almost no formal discussion. The Senate elections committee, forwarding it to the floor, said only, “The evils of the use of money in connection with political elections are so generally recognized that the committee deem it unnecessary to make any argument in favor of the general purpose of this measure.”

The D.C. Court of Appeals ruled against [James] Buckley [in Buckley v. Valeo], six-to-two, writing, “It would be strange indeed if, by extrapolation outward from the basic rights of individuals, the wealthy few could claim a constitutional guarantee to a stronger political voice than the unwealthy many because they are able to give and spend more money.”

“Money is a proxy for speech, []Robert] Bork wrote. “Money is speech, “Justice Potter Stewart echoed, during oral arguments, “and speech is money.”

Unregulated money in politics erodes the public’s trust in government. There will never be no money, but, for the public to have faith in government the law has to be something a great deal stronger than: anything goes.

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