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On Our Highest Court, A Former Lobbyist Guts Campaign Finance Reform

Memo Pad

On Our Highest Court, A Former Lobbyist Guts Campaign Finance Reform


For a large and bipartisan majority of Americans, the increasing power of money in politics is alarming, but not for the conservative majority of the United States Supreme Court, whose members appear to regard the dollar’s domination of democracy as an inevitable consequence of constitutional freedom — and anyway, not a matter of grave concern. Expressed in their decisions on campaign finance, which continued last week to dismantle decades of reform in the McCutcheon case, the Court’s right wing sees little risk of corruption and little need to regulate the flamboyant spending of billionaires.

Given the behavior of certain conservative justices, such as Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito – who flout the rules that govern partisan behavior among lower-court judges – it is easy to regard their rulings as partisan cynicism. But there is also an element of willful naiveté when the conservatives claim, for instance, that corrupt donations will be exposed by the instant transparency of publication on the Internet. Any reporter who has covered elections can attest that there are dozens of ways for wealthy donors to avoid public scrutiny until it is much too late to matter.

But if right-wingers like Scalia and Thomas are simply pursuing ideological objectives, what about Anthony Kennedy, the Reagan appointee from California who was long seen as a moderating influence and a “swing vote”? On the issue of campaign finance, Kennedy has marched along with the majority, seeming just as fervent in his urge to destroy every regulation and protection against the “malefactors of great wealth” erected since the days of Theodore Roosevelt.

It was Kennedy who wrote the majority opinion in Citizens United, which dismissed the notion that corruption will arise from unlimited political campaign contributions because they will all be disclosed. “Citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests …and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way,” he wrote. “This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”

But if any Supreme Court justice knows how ridiculous that sounds, it must be Kennedy – whose own background as a corporate lobbyist and son of a lobbyist has been forgotten in nearly three decades since his Senate confirmation in 1987.

Yes, Kennedy was a respected appellate court judge before Reagan appointed him to the high court. But before that, he grew up and then worked as an attorney in Sacramento, where his father became a “legendary” lobbyist in a state capital renowned as “freewheeling” (a polite term that means “routinely corrupt”).

Joe Conason

A highly experienced journalist, author and editor, Joe Conason is the editor-in-chief of The National Memo, founded in July 2011. He was formerly the executive editor of the New York Observer, where he wrote a popular political column for many years. His columns are distributed by Creators Syndicate and his reporting and writing have appeared in many publications around the world, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, and Harpers. Since November 2006, he has served as editor of The Investigative Fund, a nonprofit journalism center, where he has assigned and edited dozens of award-winning articles and broadcasts. He is also the author of two New York Times bestselling books, The Hunting of the President (St. Martins Press, 2000) and Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (St. Martins Press, 2003). Currently he is working on a new book about former President Bill Clinton's life and work since leaving the White House in 2001. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, including MSNBC's Morning Joe, and lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

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  1. Sand_Cat April 4, 2014

    So who was it that Kennedy was respected by?

    1. Allan Richardson April 5, 2014

      The lobbyist community, perhaps?

  2. ps0rjl April 5, 2014

    Will Rogers once said we have the best congress money can buy. It looks like we now also have the best Supreme Court money can buy.

    1. Irishgrammy April 5, 2014

      So depressingly true! With Scalia and Thomas making regular appearances at Koch brothers “private fund raisers” these two “justices” are more cozy and comfortable in the “pockets” of the extreme right Koch’s as one can get!!! Highly inappropriate and conflicted behavior for any Supreme Court justice, let alone two! Along with Thomas’ wife being involved with an extreme right organization fighting to end the ACA with false attacks and inflammatory rhetoric……what an embarrassment this court has become and what it will now go down in the history books with rulings on who and what this “conservative” majority represents!

      1. longtail April 5, 2014

        I’m afraid that I am reduced to hoping for a short life for those justices who have sold out their ideals and their country for profit.

        1. Kansan April 7, 2014

          None of them have lived a short enough life already.

          There’s nothing I’d feel better about than if lightning struck a hot tub which Scalia and Thomas were sharing with the Kochs. I think that might provide proof that there is indeed a god.

  3. longtail April 5, 2014

    You know, I always took it for granted that politicians would take money in exchange for their favors, that’s the oldest profession, but it was a huge disappointment when the Supreme Court went up for sale. I just expected better from my democracy.

  4. Mark Forsyth April 5, 2014

    Time for a hanging judge to hang those terrible judges.Treason wears many masks.

  5. jointerjohn April 5, 2014

    It is now all about the Presidency in 2016 and the ability to appoint to the Supreme Court. Nothing else matters.

    1. Irishgrammy April 6, 2014

      I completely agree john! The far right have been spending their energies and money getting far right ideological judges appointed and elected to stack the courts with their ideological intolerant ideas and continue their devotion to the idea only the rich and narrow minded deserve to “govern” and “rule”. It is an obscenity and the left is going to have to start fighting back like their lives depend on it, cause ours do!!! If we want to see any real fairness, leveling of the playing field and true justice and genuine progress, it will never happen with these extreme ideologues running the courts like, Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Roberts!

    2. Kurt CPI April 7, 2014

      Hear, hear!

  6. Sand_Cat April 6, 2014

    The damned Court is already bought and paid for; what more do they want?
    When will the idiots who keep blathering about Kennedy’s being a moderate and the swing vote shut up? Does anyone who helped to give us George W. Bush as president deserve anything but contempt forever? What does the man have to do?
    The only “swing” his votes are providing is taking us closer and closer to the abyss.

  7. Ocean Sprayz April 6, 2014

    The liberty to choose our own way frees each of us to develop our own unique abilities and maximize our unique contribution to civilization.

  8. Kansan April 7, 2014

    This explains a lot which I never knew before. Kennedy would have had to grow up totally lacking in a conscience in order to maintain respect for his father and that defect enabled him to carry on the family traditions. It explains Bush v. Gore as well.

  9. Daniel Jones April 7, 2014

    “Swing” vote.. maybe a swinging pendulum.

  10. Kurt CPI April 7, 2014

    No question bu that these two rulings confirm and support politics for sale to the highest bidder. These two rulings have doomed our democracy. I’d advise my kids to move to Canada, but I still have hope that this can be overturned at some time in the future. It’s a sham and a shame.

  11. dpaano April 7, 2014

    The saddest thing about this is that most (IMO) Americans are getting so sick and tired of hearing about the BS going on in our Government and with our Supreme Court that they are just not paying attention any longer. This is bad! We need people to keep aware!! If they are not aware, they tend not to vote, and that will give the GOP all the ooomph they need to take over this country and run it into the ground. It just seems that every time the SCOTUS votes for something, it’s the American public that gets screwed. Our voices are not heard any longer. We obviously don’t have the billions of dollars that Adelson or the Koch Bros. have, so we can’t influence the votes in our direction. And, the biggest problem is that there seems to be nothing that we can do about it, especially since the Supreme Court Justices are there for life (which CLEARLY needs to be changed). I sign petitions daily to get rid of “Citizens United,” etc., but nothing ever seems to happen. When do WE get our First Amendment rights!??

  12. Charles Almon April 8, 2014

    The Republicans new one word descriptions, at this point, can only we described as ARROGANCE, and SHAMELESS.
    Everything is out in the open, no pretense,
    They do NOTHING for the American PEOPLE and don’t care who knows it.
    The Governor of West Virgina knowingly let Duke, turn the state into a toxic sewer and waste dump. Then walk away with a bankruptcy filing and stolen pensions.


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