In the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s appalling Citizens United ruling, Corporate America’s attempts to exert undue influence and block reform efforts in the U.S. Congress are nothing new.
A new report offers fresh evidence that Big Business has its sights set on our justice system too. State Supreme Court elections are the prime targets for corporate interests’ effort to control state benches. The motive: stack the courts with “business-friendly” judges. The implications are hard to overstate and deeply scary.
The report, Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14, was produced by three nonpartisan organizations: Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
We’ve just seen the worst that Washington has to offer with the “cromnibus” government spending bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last night.
Instead of Congress passing a clean funding bill along lines that were previously agreed to and had bipartisan acceptance, Big Business exercised its insider influence and took advantage of an artificially rushed and secretive process to cut deals to enhance the political influence of the super-rich, put taxpayers on the hook – again – for Wall Street recklessness and make our roads less safe.
Moneyed interests maneuvered to eviscerate campaign spending rules, so that a super-rich couple may now contribute up to $3 million to a national political party in a single (two-year) election cycle. It’s a certainty that this move will be followed up by calls to “level the playing field” and permit the same monstrous contributions to candidates and political committees.
Wall Street called on its friends to include a Citigroup-drafted provision that would roll back a key Dodd-Frank measure that was designed to prevent Big Banks from using taxpayer-insured money to bet in the derivatives markets. With the top four banks responsible for 93 percent of derivatives activities in the United States, there is zero question about which entities will benefit. Nor who will pay; when the next financial crisis comes – as it will, as certainly as the calendar changes – taxpayers will be forced to pay for Wall Street gambling on derivatives.
At the behest of the trucking industry, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins included in the spending bill a provision to override rules to reduce truck driver fatigue, which risks the lives of truckers and other drivers.
These are only some of the known giveaways in the spending bill. It will probably take many weeks, or longer, before all of the industry deals are discovered.
As serious and troubling as are these measures, there is reason to fear worse is to come. Even though it opposed many of these harmful provisions, the White House pushed for approval of the overall spending deal, which had to overcome substantial opposition from members of Congress in both parties. If this is the kind of “bipartisanship” we’re going to see in the coming two years, the country is facing dire prospects indeed.
One important aspect of yesterday’s elections not receiving nearly enough attention in the national headlines is the massive amount of political spending – much of it by dark money groups that do not disclose their funding sources – in state judicial elections.
Our friends at Justice At Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice are shining a much-needed light on this overlooked fact and its implications in new research released today.
The research shows the unsettling fact that spending on Supreme Court elections during the 2014 election cycle reached $13.8 million, topping the previous record of $12.2 million, set in 2010.
Among the key take-aways from the report is the extent to which political spending by corporations and other outside Big Money players is an election issue:
TV ads in Montana, Ohio, and Illinois accused candidates of being owned or influenced by special interests, or alternately asserted that a candidate was unaffected by special interests. An ad aired by Montanans for Liberty and Justice said candidate VanDyke was “in the pocket of out of state special interests” while incumbent Wheat urged voters in an ad by his campaign to “tell these corporations that neither your vote, nor my seat, are for sale.” Both VanDyke and Ohio Justice Judith French were targeted with graphically similar TV ads depicting photos of their faces tucked into businessmen’s cash-lined suit pockets.