The weekend saw Elizabeth Warren warn the AFL-CIO convention that federal courts, and especially the Supreme Court, are at risk of “corporate capture.” Citing the recent study by People For the American Way which found the Roberts Court is the most pro-corporate since World War II, the senator from Massachusetts warned that we may “end up with a Supreme Court that functions as a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Business.”
Speaking to reporters earlier Sunday, (AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka) sounded a similar note on the Supreme Court, calling the current panel “the best champion of corporate America” and raising the prospect of a constitutional amendment to reverse the court’s rulings against campaign finance regulation.
“If may take a constitutional amendment, because this Supreme Court, as currently constituted, equates money with free speech,” Trumka said.
While a constitutional amendment would be a hard slog, there may be no other choice left to the American people. The architects of our post-Citizens United situation are busy demolishing the last firewalls in the current election funding laws. For instance, our old friend Dan Backer is trying to legalize anonymous, unlimited, and untraceable individual federal campaign contributions. Not only can money be considered speech, the “speaking” can be done in private, without anyone ever finding out what was said. Isn’t that the definition of bribery?
We find this point all the more compelling because Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, was recently revealed as a participant in Groundswell, a right wing organization that meets “to concoct talking points, coordinate messaging, and hatch plans for ‘a 30 front war seeking to fundamentally transform the nation.'” Groundswell lobbied Congress to take up the IRS and Benghazi “scandals” in a scorched-Earth strategy that devoured all the oxygen in Washington for months. Besides her role as Supreme Court spouse, Ginni is also a columnist for Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller. Meetings included the CEO of Breitbart News LLC and journalists from the Washington Examiner. Together, they concocted the messaging and talking points, whipped up a storm of attention to them, and pressured Republicans to adopt them. There are so many conflicts of interest in the Groundswell story that it is easy to forget Mrs. Thomas already had ethics issues, such as:
Justice Thomas’ failure to disclose his wife Virginia “Ginny” Thomas’ employment with the Heritage Foundation — a key voice opposing the healthcare law (which Thomas corrected by filing amended disclosure forms in January 2011) and the more than $550,000 his wife, Ginny, raised in 2009 to start an anti-healthcare reform Tea Party organization and consulting firm Liberty Central.
Mrs. Thomas has been taking money from the same people who go before her husband’s court. Justice bought is justice denied, and democracy bought is democracy denied. We would like to see Senator Warren examine this topic in the context of Ginni Thomas, or at least mention her husband’s refusal to recuse himself when her clients are involved in litigation before him. Justice Thomas sees no conflict of interest in that because he lives in Dan Backer’s world, where all of this makes perfect libertarian sense. The ultimate goal of right wing billionaire-centric organizing is to remove all the brakes from the system so that unlimited, uncounted money can flow into the pockets of the politicians who defend the interests of the billionaires, who will enjoy unlimited and unaccountable influence. They see this as the natural order of the universe and react badly to suggestions that the truth is otherwise.
A few years ago, similar ideas took over the global financial system and its federal regulatory agencies. Remember the era of Wall Street supermen with golden parachutes selling leveraged tranches of subprime garbage as AAA securities? Without a change in course, two of our three branches of government could end up in a similar state of deep capture. Imagine the disasters that would inevitably ensue.