Into Claudius’ Ear

The downfall of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, came at the hands of his uncle, Claudius, who coveted not only Hamlet’s mother but her husband’s kingdom as well.

Claudius poured poison into his brother the King’s ear. Hamlet’s father died. Claudius then bedded his sister-in-law, became king, and began his campaign to drive Hamlet dead or alive from Denmark.

That’s William Shakespeare’s take on the legend.

In the United States of America today we have Claudiuses up to our ears. Yes, of course, we have ambitious politicians who believe they could be better kings than the one we have now. They are called Senators and Representatives and Governors. But we also have something that poor old Claudius really needed and didn’t have in his day: a Supreme Court that believes, it too, could either together or separately be better kings than Mr. Obama, or anyone else for that matter.

We hesitate to grab the Tea Party line about judges being unelected. But that’s what we have. They are appointed and approved by the US Senate before which each and every man-jack of them swore fealty to strict constitutionality, precedent, and the welfare of all Americans everywhere.

Clearly something has gone awry. For what we are faced with today is a banc of men and women at odds with one another about what is best for our country…constitutional precedent be damned.

It is important for us to remember that no case gets to the Supreme Court unless the Court allows it. Some work their ways through lower courts unable to make a decisive call, seeking Supreme Court assistance. Others are selected purposely by the Court to make a point.

The most recent example of this is this week’s resolution of a case brought by an Alabama businessman who believed that he had the right to spread his money around to hundreds of political candidates if he so chose. Less would be an imfringement on his first amendment rights.

This suit went straight to the Supreme Court, without earlier stops along the way. Why? Because the Court saw another opportunity to pour poison in the ear of the king. Not to mention a way of seeming to assure Republican dominance in elections for years to come. If you can give to hundreds of campaigns unlimitedly, which then can turn around and do what they will with your contribution, you are in effect buying not one Congressman or Senator, i.e., your own, but everyone else’s too.

A quick metaphorical switch here, as the country itself becomes king.

This king has had poison poured into his ear for years and years. He refuses to die, although many of us worry daily about his health.

The Supreme Court has been busily pouring poison into this king’s ear, starting with the Citizens United decision which allowed corporations to have the right to political speech, as though a corporation were human.

Next, the Court did away with sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which for years had been ratified and re-ratified by the US Senate. Here, as in Citizens United, the Court (read John Roberts, chief justice) found a little sugar to go with the pill. Not every impediment to corporate power was removed; not every safeguard to maintaining voting rights for all was removed. It’s the same old NRA approach: we have plenty of laws if only we enforced them properly.

Roberts has become the Claudius of our time. Smooth, glib, reassuring, and incredibly gifted as a politician. After eviscerating the Voting Rights Act, the very next day Roberts relented and gave much of the public what it wanted. He oversaw the defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act. Since this issue had been divisive for so long, naturally the press covered this event rather than the Voting Rights debacle.

Soliciting to hear the Alabama case of political free speech, Roberts saw an opportunity to put nail two into the coffin of American democracy – nail three will follow, as the night the day. If corporations are people whose free speech rights had been for so long abused, wouldn’t the same be true of donors and PACS whose good efforts on behalf of their candidates were circumscribed by Federal election guidelines? Then the guidelines must go!

Nail three is when the final $2600 allowance for individuals to give to their favorite candidates is also found unconstitutional…thereby also effectively doing away also with the American voter who will no longer even count.

We may as well simply go to the end point and declare that money is God in this country, honesty and honor and hopes for the future as lost as the promises of Supreme Court nominees before their Senate challengers: yes, sure, strict constructionists all!

Is there no remedy, no help? Only one: all Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, must understand what is happening here in “1984” and vote as if they lives depended on it. For in fact, they do.

There’s no point beating around another bush, either. This court is as political, and murderous, a court as we have seen in our lifetimes. And now it seems it doesn’t even care who knows it.

A Look back at Federal Campaign Financing…..from MIKE BOURGEOIS

Dear Readers: As a new feature of “Tapdancing in the Hall,” we invited one very smart fellow to give us his take on what you’ve just read. It’s one thing to have us spouting emotional diatribe and condemnation; it’s something else to have an idea of the facts behind this particular case.

MIKE is a retired attorney, engaged as we all are in trying to straighten out the US of A. In addition to having “two perfect grandchildren,” he’s also an expert in the field of trial work in Louisiana, not to mention having spent nearly 20 years combating insurance companies, lawyers and other “professionals” who know the ins and outs but who so rarely share their good fortune with the rest of us. If you’re impressed, let MIKE know at gmichael_bourgeois

IN 1971, President Richard Nixon signed the Federal Elections Campaign Act. N 1974, Congress passed an amendment to the Act over the President’s veto. The amended Act was designed to get a handle on geometrically increasing costs and suspected corruption in federal elections. The 1974 amendment established the Federal Election Commission.

After “Watergate” and the resignation of Nixon as president, individuals and political groups from both sides of the aisle sued to stop enforcement of the amended Act (Buckley v. Valeo). They claimed that the Act violated the First Amendment of the Constitution which protects political speech. Those defending claimed that the Act, as it furthered public good, limited only conduct but not speech. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Act that regulated contributions to individuals and political parties, and also full disclosure of contribution amounts and their sources. But the Court struck down the section of the Act relating to campaign expenditures, ruling that spending limits on those expenditures restricted freedom of political speech. The Court recognized, importantly, that society’s interest in preventing corruption and the “appearance of corruption” could justify limitations on First Amendment Free Speech rights. The issue had been joined, and the first skirmish of the war resulted in partial victories for both sides.

Corporation and labor union contributions to candidates for federal office were outlawed by the new Act. In 1979, however, Congress amended the Act once again to allow state and local grass roots and party-building activities, so that funds contributed for these activities would not count against party contribution limits. State and local governments interpreted the 1979 amendment to allow solicitation of funds from corporations and labor unions, and thus was “soft money” born.

By 2002, Congress passed and President Bush signed the bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, more frequently called “McCain-Feingold”. This act reinstated the pre-Watergate ban on corporate and labor union contributions by banning the solicitation and spending of soft money by national political parties. Not surprisingly, this Act ended up before the Supreme Court in 2003, too. The Court upheld the Act on the basis of the fact that it dealt with soft money rather than with campaign contributions, and therefore threats to the First Amendment were minimal. More importantly – and again – the Court noted that the government had a legitimate interest in preventing “both the actual corruption threatened by large financial contributions and…the appearance of corruption.”

Fast forward. In 2007 the Supreme Court issued its Citizens United decision. In this case, the Federal Election Commission banned Citizens United, a conservative lobbying group, from advertising or showing “Hillary: The Movie” within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary, on the basis of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. The majority found that the Act’s prohibition of all expenditures by corporations or labor unions violated the First Amendment’s protection of political free speech.

The above is background to the McCutcheon decision handed down last week by the Supreme Court, which holds that limits imposed by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act on the number of candidates for federal office to whom any one donor could contribute (previously 10) violated political free speech under the First amendment. This leaves Mr. McCutcheon free to contribute to 534 candidates to the House of Representatives every two years, as well as to one-third of the Senate during the same time period – but only in the amount of $5200 in any one calendar year. Now only the amount of money a donor may give to each candidate or political party or committee survives the original Act. Since the issue of the amount of donations to individual candidates was neither briefed nor argued before the Court, one wonder about the shelf life of that issue. More pointedly, must that issue which looms in the future also fall to the broad protection of the First Amendment freedom of speech? Is any attempt to prevent corruption or its appearance doomed as DOA?

Where does all this leave us? I agree with one of last Sunday’s “talking heads” in making the comparison of McCutcheon’s garden hose to Citizens United’s fire hose. But are we in an inevitable downslope of money buying future elections?

Recent history suggests otherwise. Remember that one man, Sheldon Adelson, contributed more than ninety million bucks to at least two separate Republican presidential candidates in the last election … to no avail. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was one of Adelson’s favorites; the other was Mitt Romney – leading many to wonder how Mr. Adelson had come to acquire more than enough money to feed himself and his family.

In 2008, all the Democratic “smart” money was on Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama, however, was able to play “small ball” and match Ms. Clinton’s initial financial advantage with thousands of small contributions. In the end, it wasn’t money but rather the connection with America’s voters that brought hope and change over experience.

I’m more hopeful about the future than John is. I believe the First Amendment protects political free speech but that the American public will continue to decide whether it’s worth listening to. After all, there’s no legal obligation to listen to political gobbledygook, no matter who pays for it.


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