The Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case is a deliberate effort by corporate-friendly justices—Thomas, Scalia, Alito, Roberts, and Kennedy—to give legal sanction to property (money) over people (speech) by pretending that money is speech. Given their judicial records—corporations over government, government over citizens—and records of personal favors paid for by corporate interests, money talks, to them and now to the rest of us. Because the media pay little attention to the decisions of the Supreme Court and less to the doings of its members, most people know little or nothing of the conflict-of-interest corruption of these five members.
But many people have a visceral sense that something about the Citizens United decision is amiss. They have always understood that campaign contributions or other favors can influence politicians on issues. Yet Republicans support the decision as giving them an enormous advantage over Democrats. Not surprisingly, Republican positions on economics and taxes differ only in degree between the period before and the period after that decision. However, Republican attitudes and approaches have hardened. Since the decision, Republican resistance to basic economic facts and proven economic approaches in the recession has intensified, and Republican refusal to raise revenues, including higher taxes on the rich, as well as to make cuts has become uncompromising.
The consequences of these differences of degree amount to differences of kind. The biggest change is that influence is not only no longer only individual, but also now collective. The Big Picture is of coordinated Republican efforts to ensure that money influences, not just an individual politician pushing a particular issue, but an entire party advancing a particular ideological agenda. A picture inset is of efforts by nationally funded groups to influence the election results in states according to this agenda. Yesterday, all politics was local; today, money makes all politics national. The acute irony is the Republican money is making states rights—the right of states to make decisions for themselves and in their interests—obsolete.
The picture is of a circle. Republicans in federal or state legislatures attempt to pass, or succeed in passing, laws transferring wealth to the rich, in the form either of tax cuts or of other benefits (deduction, subsidies, etc.). The rich give a portion of the financial benefits—think of it as tithing—in the form of campaign contributions to Republican federal or state legislators or candidates, who vote for more wealth transfers to the rich.
The circle is vicious. If money from that tithing prevails in elections, both the federal government and a growing number of state governments could become dominated by large Republican majorities. The possibility grows that enough Republicans legislators in both chambers of Congress would be able to pass federal Constitutional amendments and that enough Republicans legislators in the chambers of state legislatures would be able to ratify them. (So, too, amendments to state constitutions.) Those amendments might accord not only with traditional and recent Republican positions, but also with any other provisions not to their liking. With nothing in the Constitution safe from amendment, the entire document could be rewritten piecemeal in a matter of years. In other words, Republicans could redefine the nature of the political system and change it from a representative democracy to anything else at all.
The list of amendments might include, among others, the abolition of income taxes and the right to abortions; the redefinition of citizenship; and the establishment of property qualifications to vote. It might mean, among others, a redefinition and restriction of the inter-state commerce clause, the establishment of property rights over civil rights, the enlargement of executive powers, and the curtailment of judicial review. The possibilities are numerous, and the restraints under such conditions virtually non-existent.
Such legislatures will also be able to grant consent to executive nominees to federal and state courts, who will be selected because of their sympathy with the Republican ideology or support for the Republican agenda.
Welcome to an unimaginable future inimical to democracy, until a Second American Revolution in mid-century.