Supreme Court ruling gives small number of wealthy donors new ways to drive campaigns

By Matea Gold, Washington Post, April 2, 2014

An elite class of wealthy donors who have gained mounting influence in campaigns now has the ability to exert even greater sway.

A Supreme Court decision Wednesday to do away with an overall limit on how much individuals can give candidates and political parties opens a new spigot for money to flow into campaigns already buffeted by huge spending from independent groups.

In this year’s midterm races, outside organizations financed by very rich donors, such as the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, have significantly shaped the campaign landscape with TV ads and other expenditures totaling in the tens of millions of dollars.

The ruling by a sharply split court opens the door even wider for a narrow universe of donors to expand their giving by writing single checks for as much as $3.6 million that could flow directly to candidate and party committees.

Just 591 donors reached the limit on giving to federal candidates in the 2012 election, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Even that small number of contributors has the potential to inject big sums into the system, now that they can give to as many candidates, party committees and PACs as they wish.

That could mean a financial infusion for the national parties, whose traditional dominance has been eclipsed in many areas by super PACs and politically active nonprofit groups that can collect unlimited sums.

The change could help candidates raise more money to fend off attacks by outside groups, focusing their fundraising on big-dollar givers whose full largess was off-limits until now — and making officeholders more indebted to those wealthy contributors.

And it could bring at least some additional transparency to the role of such big donors, whose contributions to many outside political groups are kept secret but whose checks to candidates and party committees must be reported to the Federal Election Commission and publicly disclosed.

Supporters of stricter campaign finance rules cast the decision in McCutcheon v. FEC as a sequel to Citizens United, a 2010 case that allowed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts on independent political activity. That ruling paved the way for the creation of super PACs and led to the proliferation of nonprofit advocacy groups that engage in campaigns.

That development gave new influence to billionaires such as conservative industrialists Charles and David Koch and liberal former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, who are expected to spend tens of millions of dollars this year.

“The Supreme Court is turning our representative system of government into a sandbox for millionaires and billionaires,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a group that advocates for reducing the role of big money in politics.

After Wednesday’s ruling, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), long a champion of curbing huge donations, pointed to the influx of money and predicted, “There will be scandal.”

Many conservatives, meanwhile, cast the case as a free-speech victory.

“This is a good day for candidates, both Republican and Democratic, liberal and conservative,” said Craig Engle, an expert on GOP election law who served as a legal adviser to the team that filed the case on behalf of Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee.

“This isn’t a threat to democracy – it is democracy,” Engle added. “One of the things that is anti-democratic is when people aren’t allowed to express themselves.”

Many Republicans rejected the notion that the new ruling would unleash a flood of new political giving by the rich.

“The immediate effect will be that some major donors that would like to max out to multiple committees will have the ability to do so,” said Charlie Spies, a GOP campaign finance lawyer and fundraiser. But, he added, “there is a limited universe of donors that want to give multiple hundreds of thousands of dollar contributions.”

Fundraisers for both parties were skeptical about how many donors would take advantage of the new freedom to give beyond the previously allowed maximum, which was set at $123,200 for the 2014 cycle.

“It doesn’t actually mean that much more money in the system,” said Wade Randlett, a major Democratic fundraiser in California. “The number of people who actually wanted to give more than that and were not using super PACs already is not a gigantic number of people.”

Those who do take advantage of their new freedom to give more, he added, are mostly likely to be donors “who have a particular legal or administrative result in mind.”

In its ruling Wednesday, the court declared unconstitutional a total limit on how much an individual can give federal candidates and parties in a two-year cycle. That limit had been set at $123,200 for this cycle. (The base limits on contributions — $5,200 to a candidate for the cycle — remain untouched.)

If the overall limits had been lifted for the 2012 campaign, about 1,200 wealthy donors who hit or came close to the limit on giving to candidates and party committees could have poured an additional $304 million into federal political committees, according to an analysis by the liberal groups Demos and U.S. PIRG.

That nearly equals the $313 million that 4 million small donors gave to the campaigns of President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney that cycle.

Election lawyers anticipate that both parties will quickly seek ways to take advantage of court’s decision by creating national joint fundraising committees that can singlehandedly raise major sums. A committee made up of the presidential candidate, all the organizations and congressional candidates of one party could solicit a single check for as much as $3.6 million, for example.

Some legal experts said the McCutcheon decision could actually redirect some of the money going to secretive outside groups to political committees that must disclose their donors.

“The decision should be celebrated by all of us who worry about the polarizing effect of money on politics,” Nathaniel Persily, a constitutional law professor at Stanford University, wrote in an analysis of the case. “A world in which individuals can give limited amounts of disclosed money to a lot of politicians is certainly preferable to one in which large chunks are only given to Super PACs and other unaccountable outside groups.”

But others were skeptical that the decision would fundamentally alter the dynamics and momentum of independent groups.

“It’s a good day for political parties in one sense, but do I believe, given the current pressures in the campaign finance system, that this significantly reverses the flow of money back to the parties? No, I don’t think so,” said Robert Bauer, a top Democratic campaign finance lawyer.

Although the ruling may amplify the influence of deep-pocketed donors, it was not welcome news for many of those who are asked to write the checks.

“It’s much more of a curse than a liberation,” said Randlett, who noted that this is the point in the election cycle when many major contributors have reached their limit. “The sound you heard was the collective groan of all cycle-maxed donors.”

No longer will donors be able to put off political solicitations by saying, “I can’t give, I am watching my aggregate limits,’ ” noted Engle, the GOP lawyer. “Now you don’t have a legal excuse.”

Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.

The American Government Is Open for Corruption

By Charles Pierce, Esquire, posted on, 02 April 2014

he remarkable story of how we have come to privatize political corruption in this country reached another milestone today as the Supreme Court, John Roberts presiding, handed down its decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, effectively demolishing the aggregate, two-year limit on contributions by individuals, and taking a big chunk out of Buckley v. Valeo, the misbegotten 1976 decision that got the ball rolling in the first place. It was a 5-4 vote, with the court split exactly as it had in the Citizens United case. In writing the opinion for the court, Roberts further emphasized the equation of money with speech, and also seemed to agree with Anthony Kennedy’s famous assertion in Citizens United that the ability of megadonors to shovel gobs of money into the election process,”We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Roberts writes:

Significant First Amendment interests are implicated here. Contributing money to a candidate is an exercise of an individual’s right to participate in the electoral process through both political ex-pression and political association. A restriction on how many candi-dates and committees an individual may support is hardly a “modestrestraint” on those rights. The Government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tella newspaper how many candidates it may endorse. In its simplest terms, the aggregate limits prohibit an individual from fully contrib-uting to the primary and general election campaigns of ten or more candidates, even if all contributions fall within the base limits. And it is no response to say that the individual can simply contribute lessthan the base limits permit: To require one person to contribute atlower levels because he wants to support more candidates or causesis to penalize that individual for “robustly exercis[ing]” his FirstAmendment rights. (Davis v. Federal Election Comm’n, 554 U. S. 724, 739.) In assessing the First Amendment interests at stake, the proper fo-cus is on an individual’s right to engage in political speech, not a col-lective conception of the public good. The whole point of the FirstAmendment is to protect individual speech that the majority might prefer to restrict, or that legislators or judges might not view as use-ful to the democratic process. The aggregate limits do not further the permissible governmental interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption or its appearance.

What’s good for Koch Industries is good for Sheldon Adelson, I guess. Roberts goes on.

This Court has identified only one legitimate governmental interest for restricting campaign finances: preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption. See Davis, supra, at 741. Moreover, the only type of corruption that Congress may target is quid pro quo corruption. Spending large sums of money in connection with elec-tions, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to quid pro quo corrup-tion. Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner “influence over or access to” elected officials or political parties.

And John Roberts apparently resides on Neptune. And, in case you didn’t get the point.

Finally, disclosure of contributions minimizes the potential for abuse of the campaign finance system. Disclosure requirements are in part “justified based on a governmental interest in ‘provid[ing] the electorate with information’ about the sources of election-related spending.” Citizens United, 558 U. S., at 367 (quoting Buckley, supra, at 66).They may also “deter actual corruption and avoid theappearance of corruption by exposing large contributionsand expenditures to the light of publicity.” Disclosure requirements burden speech, but, unlike the aggregate limits, they do not impose a ceiling on speech.

Having earlier argued that there was a First Amendment issue to be found in the aggregate limits because they hindered an individual’s right to participate in the political process — It is here helpful to note the everlasting irony of Antonin Scalia’s view of Bush v. Gore. There is no individual right to vote, but an individual’s right to purchase a candidate must be untrammeled — but here, Roberts is saying it plain. To restrict money is to restrict speech. Period. And the only real legal restraint on the wholesale subletting of American democracy is John Roberts’s strange devotion to “disclosure” as some sort of shaming mechanism within the electorate. Good luck with that one.

Justice Stephen Breyer takes up a lot of these points in his dissent, most notably, the majority’s laughably narrow definition of what political corruption actually is — that political corruption exists only if you buy a specific result from a specific legislator. But it hardly matters. The five-vote majority in favor of virtually unlimited corporate and individual spending in our elections is a rock solid one. Four days after almost every Republican candidate danced the hootchie-koo in Vegas to try and gain the support of a single, skeevy casino gazillionnaire, the majority tells us that there is no “appearance of corruption” in this unless somebody gets caught putting a slot machine in the Lincoln Bedroom on behalf of Sheldon Adelson. Money talks. Big money repeats itself, over and over, age after age.

The ‘Hubris’ of the Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Ruling

By Garrett Epps, The Atlantic, Jun 25 2013

“Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the [Voting Rights Act],” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent from the 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, announced Monday.

She nailed it.

The decision invalidated the requirement of “preclearance” of voting changes by states and jurisdictions with particularly bad records of racial discrimination. (My colleague Andrew Cohen looks at the practical effect of this decision on voting rights.)  But beyond that, it illustrates the absolute contempt that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority harbors toward what is, after all, the central branch of our federal government: Congress, elected by the people and charged with exercising “all legislative powers” granted by the Constitution.  

A brief reading of the Constitution reveals how seriously the Framers took the idea of congressional centrality.  An even briefer glance at the Fifteenth Amendment shows that the Framers of that measure trusted Congress, not courts, with setting national policy against racial discrimination in voting.

Not this Court, which Monday invalidated Section Four of the Voting Rights Act — not on the grounds that it hasn’t worked; not even on the grounds that it won’t work; but on the grounds that the Court didn’t think Congress did as good a job as it could have.

In an opinion by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, the five conservatives (Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel A. Alito) brushed aside a measure they explicitly agreed was (1) needed when originally enacted (2) dramatically successful since enacted and (3) reauthorized by Congress four times over 40 years, each time with a detailed legislative process and with careful adjustment to its terms.

To understand the success of the VRA, we must briefly review how it works. The act as a whole forbids certain kinds of manipulation of voting laws to exclude or dilute minority votes.  The “coverage formula” provision in sections 4 designate certain sections of the country, on the basis of history, as being the most flagrant offenders of the Fifteenth Amendment’s command that “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Under Section 5, those jurisdictions had to get preapproval from the Justice Department or from a federal court before they could change their voting procedures at all. The reason was that previous voting-rights laws had been neutralized when the Deep South jurisdictions invented new ways not covered by the laws of blocking black voters. This time, the state would have to justify its restrictions, rather than forcing the government and citizens to go to court each time a new stratagem appeared.

Each of the first three times the act was reauthorized, Congress changed slightly the Section Four formula for determining “covered jurisdictions.” It also included new procedures to allow jurisdictions to get out of preclearance by proving they had cleaned up their act. The most recent reauthorization, in 2006, kept the “coverage formula” the same, but adjusted the law carefully to cover new forms of racial discrimination not apparent in 1965.

After that change, the vote to approve was almost unanimous in a Republican-led House and entirely unanimous in a Republican-led Senate, and the bill was signed into law with great flourish by a Republican President, who hailed it, correctly, as “an example of our continued commitment to a united America where every person is valued and treated with dignity and respect.” It was, by any sane model of self-government, an American success story, of a flexible, successful law, adjusted for changing conditions, achieving a significant national goal.

On Tuesday, at the Court, this entire successful 45-year bipartisan effort was brushed aside as farce. The factual record amassed in 2006 was extensive, the majority concedes; but it is also irrelevant. “Congress did not use the record it compiled to shape a coverage formula grounded in current conditions … we are not ignoring the record; we are simply recognizing that it played no role in shaping the statutory formula before us today.”

The evidence for this startling assertion was … well, there was no real “evidence,” if by that you mean proof.  What there was instead was a simple declaration that Congress must not have used the record because it didn’t change the Voting Rights Act enough. The Court could have done a better job, and the Court didn’t think the problem was such a big deal any more after all.

As Andrew points out, in practical terms this result is bad enough.  But beyond the question of voting rights lies this underlying contempt for Congress.  Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan described the emerging attitude brilliantly in her recent essay, “Democracy and Disdain.” We saw it displayed during oral argument in the health-care cases, when, for example, Justice Scalia suggested striking down the whole law if any part of it was unconstitutional, on the grounds that Congress couldn’t be trusted to fix it to the Court’s satisfaction. It has been apparent in the campaign-finance cases, which dismiss the judgments of legislators on the role of money in politics on the grounds that, in essence, they must be rigging the system to get themselves re-elected. It also glimmers as the substrate of decisions restricting anti-discrimination laws, reading broad language more and more narrowly on the cynical grounds that Congress could not have meant what the statutes seem to say.

The idea that the Court should approach congressional statutes with a presumption of contempt has few grounds in the Constitution or history generally; it has even fewer in the specific area of voting rights.  The preclearance requirement, the majority says, “imposes substantial federalism costs’ and ‘differentiates between the States, despite our historical tradition that all the States enjoy equal sovereignty.’”  In addition, it suggests that preclearance violates the Tenth Amendment’s rule that “all powers not specifically granted to the Federal government are reserved to the States or citizens.” But it makes no attempt to apply these quasi-constitutional platitudes to the text of the provisions at hand. That’s because they don’t apply. The Fifteenth Amendment makes clear that states have no “reserved power” over violations of the right to vote “by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” These are transferred from state authority to federal prohibition. And Congress, not the courts, is to enforce that prohibition “by appropriate legislation.”

In other words, the majority’s limits on Congress’s power do not flow from the text, history, or structure of the Constitution; as Ginsburg’s dissent persuasively shows, they do not flow from the Court’s earlier precedent either. They flow from a sense by five justices (none of whom has ever served a day in legislative office) that Congress, on the whole, can’t do as good a job at anything as they can.  

This is hubris indeed. Today it has damaged the ability of citizens to use the ballot to call their rulers to account. But that damage is only a part of a hole slowly widening in the fabric of constitutional congressional authority. There’s no reason to believe that this majority does not intend further unraveling in the near future.

This article available online at:

Copyright © 2013 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All Rights Reserved.


Justice Ginsburg Slams Supreme Court’s ‘Hubris’ In Fiery Dissent On Voting Rights Act

by Sahil Kapur TPMDC, June 25, 2013

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg penned the fierce dissent against the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision Tuesday to invalidate a key section of the Voting Rights Act, accusing the conservative justices of displaying “hubris” and a lack of sound reasoning.

“[T]he Court’s opinion can hardly be described as an exemplar of restrained and moderate decision making,” wrote the leader of the court’s liberal wing. “Quite the opposite. Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the VRA.”

Joined by the three other liberal-leaning justices, Ginsburg scolded the conservative majority and its rationale for throwing out Section 4 of the law — which contains the formula Congress has used to determine which states and local governments must receive federal pre-approval before changing their voting laws.

“Congress approached the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA with great care and seriousness. The same cannot be said of the Court’s opinion today,” she wrote. “The Court makes no genuine attempt to engage with the massive legislative record that Congress assembled. Instead, it relies on increases in voter registration and turnout as if that were the whole story.”

Congress has renewed the Voting Rights Act four times — most recently in 2006 by an overwhelming 390-33 vote in the House and a 98-0 vote in the Senate. Chief Justice John Roberts, the author of the majority opinion, argued that “[o]ur country has changed” particularly in the mostly southern jurisdictions covered by the Voting Rights Act.

“In my judg­ment,” Ginsburg wrote, “the Court errs egregiously by overriding Congress’ decision.”

She lambasted the majority for “disturbing lapses” in its reasoning, citing as one example its failure to explain why the plaintiff in the case, Shelby County of Alabama, should be freed from preclearance despite its history of voter discrimination.

“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet,” Ginsburg wrote.

The Clinton-appointed justice said there was a “sad irony” to the Supreme Court throwing out a piece of the law it admits has been effective at reducing discrimination.

“The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective,” she wrote. “The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclear­ance is no longer needed. … With that belief, and the argument derived from it, history repeats itself.”


The conservative grip on power By Linda Hirshman, Mar 31, 2012

A ruthless GOP power grab, centered around the Supreme Court, has cemented conservative control in Washington

…In the 30 years since coming to power here, Republicans have used their initial ascent to power to seal themselves into office as tightly as the pharaohs. Smart commentators have noted how lawless the conservatives are in making substantive decisions, but that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is how they use their tenure to make it increasingly impossible to oust them. 

…we are nearing the apotheosis of conservative power. Let us recount how we got here: In 2000, a mob of conservative thugs stopped the vote recount in Florida. And that was before the court got involved, the five conservative justices seizing the election and handing the White House to George W. Bush…Bush replaced them [Rehnquist, O'Connor] with two young conservatives…

Court majority ruled that the GOP’s wealthy sponsors could spend an unlimited amount of the money putting conservatives in office…preparing to wipe from the statute books the only piece of meaningful progressive legislation in the last half century…

conservatives took over state legislatures across the country. In power, they enacted a series of measures that should make Hosni Mubarak blush. They redrew the legislative maps to guarantee that they would hold a majority of the legislatures, state and federal, regardless of whether they failed to gain a majority of actual votes. (The design of the Senate, favoring sparsely populated rural states, already way overrepresents the Republicans.) Using a panoply of legislative strategies, they made it infinitely harder for the Democrats to register their supporters and for the Democratic voters,…

True, the Democrats have not been models of political virtue. Cowardly when confronted by their powerful adversaries, confused about the moral grounding of their political vision, faithless to their allies, racketing from one trendy policy initiative to another, without anything resembling long-term planning — with enemies like the Democrats, who needs friends? But blaming the victim is way too easy. Democrats made the mistake of behaving as if the American rules of representative government still applied. Confronted with the lawless conservative Republicans, their fate was sealed. 

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A ruthless GOP power grab, centered around the Supreme Court, has cemented conservative control in Washington

Writing in Salon, Natasha Lennard proposes that with the warm weather we can again expect the Occupy movement to shoot up. Arab Spring, American Spring. She’s right about one thing: Like in the decades before the Arab Spring, it has been a long, cold, American winter. In the 30 years since coming to power here, Republicans have used their initial ascent to power to seal themselves into office as tightly as the pharaohs. Smart commentators have noted how lawless the conservatives are in making substantive decisions, but that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is how they use their tenure to make it increasingly impossible to oust them.


With this week’s Supreme Court hearings — which will end, liberals worry, with the justices overturning healthcare reform — we are nearing the apotheosis of conservative power. Let us recount how we got here: In 2000, a mob of conservative thugs stopped the vote recount in Florida. And that was before the court got involved, the five conservative justices seizing the election and handing the White House to George W. Bush. Secure in the tenure of their undemocratically selected president, the two older conservative justices, William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O’Connor, retired from the bench. Bush replaced them with two young conservatives, destined, by constitutional design and the miracles of modern medicine, to dominate the court into the foreseeable future. At the Supreme Court, it’s always winter (and never Christmas).


The stunningly inept performance by the Bush administration unforeseeably produced the first Democratic federal government since 1994. Immediately thereafter, the conservative Supreme Court majority ruled that the GOP’s wealthy sponsors could spend an unlimited amount of the money putting conservatives in office. Now, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, appointed, in part, by the conservative president they put in the White House, is preparing to wipe from the statute books the only piece of meaningful progressive legislation in the last half century, passed during the brief Indian summer of a two-year Democratic majority.


And it’s not just the federal government. In 2010, fueled, in part, by the money the conservative justices unleashed, the conservatives took over state legislatures across the country. In power, they enacted a series of measures that should make Hosni Mubarak blush. They redrew the legislative maps to guarantee that they would hold a majority of the legislatures, state and federal, regardless of whether they failed to gain a majority of actual votes. (The design of the Senate, favoring sparsely populated rural states, already way overrepresents the Republicans.) Using a panoply of legislative strategies, they made it infinitely harder for the Democrats to register their supporters and for the Democratic voters, even if registered, to vote. Voters must be reported within 24 hours of being registered or penalties will be levied on the laggard registrars. Would-be voters must produce a fistful of identity documents, notoriously more common among old white (Republican) voters than the youthful and nonwhite Americans likely to support the Democrats. If they run the registration gauntlet, they must again verify their identity on Election Day, with the same culturally skewed set of papers. In the swing state of Florida, the New York Times reports, the activists have given up registering new voters: Too perilous.


True, the Democrats have not been models of political virtue. Cowardly when confronted by their powerful adversaries, confused about the moral grounding of their political vision, faithless to their allies, racketing from one trendy policy initiative to another, without anything resembling long-term planning — with enemies like the Democrats, who needs friends? But blaming the victim is way too easy. Democrats made the mistake of behaving as if the American rules of representative government still applied. Confronted with the lawless conservative Republicans, their fate was sealed.

Linda Hirshman is the author of “Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution,” forthcoming in June 2012. Follow her on Twitter @LindaHirshman1

Look who’s covertly controlling the GOP

Karl Rove, Scheming Election Theft and Raising a Fortune for Vicious Attack Ads, Democracy Now! [1] / By Amy Goodman [2], Craig Unger [3]  posted on, August 22, 2012

The following is a transcript of a Democracy Now! interview with Craig Unger on Karl Rove’s comeback. 


AG… Karl Rove has become the ulti­mate party boss.…

CU:… it’s worth going back to how he got power back in the 1980s [in] ­Texas…to show Karl Rove’s power dur­ing the Bush years… in 2000…in O­hio in 2004Rove did a lot of things that were sort of under the radar and that I think have endur­ing con­se­quences, and they rep­re­sent real threats to democ­racy…I don’t think he’s an ide­o­logue. I think he’s about win­ning….There’s always been this talk of a per­ma­nent Repub­li­can major­ity that Rove is try­ing to forge, and he sees it, the nation, as being entirely Repub­li­can….…Karl Rove barely escaped indict­ment and rose to be the biggest pow­er­house, polit­i­cal pow­er­house, in Amer­ica today…the Valerie Plame scan­dal…Joe Wil­son…Sad­dam Hus­sein…Pres­i­dent Bush’s State of the Union address that called for war against and launched the war again­st I­raq. And the alle­ga­tions, of course, were not just false, but they were based on forged doc­u­ments…this showed that they would stop at noth­ing to main­tain their nar­ra­tive…it’s most impor­tant to under­stand about this man who has now become per­haps the most pow­er­ful polit­i­cal oper­a­tive in America…

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Our guest for the hour is Craig Unger, who has written Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove’s Secret Kingdom of Power. In it, he writes, “Undeniably, he’s back,” talking about Karl Rove. “He has re-invented himself. He is not merely Bush’s Brain; he’s the man who swallowed the Republican Party. As the maestro orchestrating the various super-pacs, he has inspired the wealthiest people on the right to pony up what could amount to $1 billion and has created an unelected position for himself of real enduring power with no term limits. Karl Rove has become the ultimate party boss.” Craig Unger, lay out his rise to power, his fall, and then his rise again.

CRAIG UNGER: Right. Well, I think a lot of people saw him as a creature of the Bush family, and then that was it, and then it was all over in 2008 when Bush left the White House. And that was not the case at all.

And it’s worth going back to how he got power back in the 1980s. And there was not much of a Texas Republican Party in those years, partly becauseTexas had powerful conservative Democrats, like John Connolly and Lloyd Bentsen, so the big business people who normally would give to the Republicans said, “Well, why bother? We’re getting what we want from Connolly and Bentsen.” Rove got around that by creating political action committees, and he took an issue that seemed obscure at the time, known as tort reform. It’s giving the rights of people to collect in product liability cases. And he went to Philip Morris, who put him on his payroll, and to big pharmaceutical companies and so forth and said, “Look, you guys risk billions and billions of dollars in product liability. Give a few million to my candidates, and we will take over the Texas Supreme Court, we’ll take over theTexas legislature, we’ll put George W. Bush in as governor, and we will save you billions of dollars.” And he did precisely that. And he ended up with—he flipped the—theTexas Supreme Court was completely dominated by Democrats. It became completely Republican. And he ended up with some very loyal campaign contributors, like Bob Perry—who is no relation to Rick Perry—Harold Simmons and so forth. These areTexas billionaires. And they’ve stuck with him for about 30 years. So, that’s really the first phase.

The key moment then came in 2010, and this was the Republican Party was in crisis, as it appears to be again today. And if you—Michael Steele was chairman of the RNC. And you may remember, in early 2010, there was an episode where Republican donors were being entertained at a lesbian bondage-themed strip club. And—

AMY GOODMAN: InCalifornia.

CRAIG UNGER: InCalifornia, exactly. And partly as a result of that and other things, big money people just refused to give anything to the Republican Party.

AMY GOODMAN: And this was a time when the Republican—when the RNCwas broke.

CRAIG UNGER: Absolutely, absolutely. It was also just after a landmark Supreme Court decision, Citizens United. And this opened the gateways for people to give unlimited contributions to super PACs. And so, Karl Rove had a luncheon at his home inWashington,D.C., on Weaver Terrace. He had about two dozen people there. These were the bigwigs in—it was co-sponsored by Ed Gillespie, who had been former chairman of the RNC. And he came away with millions and millions of dollars, and this represented the birth of the super PAC of American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS and so forth.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, before we go forward, I wanted to go back a little further to show—to show Karl Rove’s power during the Bush years, both in 2000 and then—you devote an entire chapter to what happened inOhio in 2004. And a lot of people might not remember this or might not have even known to begin with.

CRAIG UNGER: Right. Well, Rove did a lot of things that were sort of under the radar and that I think have enduring consequences, and they represent real threats to democracy. One of them was theU.S. attorneys scandal, and I think it was widely misunderstood. And, you know, this was—became best known when eightUnited States attorneys were fired for sort of not toeing the Republican Party line. Now, in fact, to me, the real question is not what happened in the unjust firing of those eight people; it’s what about the otherU.S. attorneys who were appointed by the Bush administration and were toeing the party line? What were they doing? And what we see happening is that they were prosecuting Democrats, essentially. This is best—it came through best in—I think the most egregious case of this is inAlabama, and it’s the case of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman, who will probably—in early September, will face going to jail for eight years. And I think this is one of the most egregious, unjust acts we’ve seen from the Justice Department.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to turn former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, who was found guilty in a 2006 corruption case. Critics say Siegelman was the target of a political witch hunt, in part orchestrated by former Bush administration deputy Karl Rove. Democracy Now! spoke to Siegelman [4] about his case in early 2009. We asked if he believed Karl Rove was involved in his prosecution. Let’s just go to his response.

DON SIEGELMAN: I was brought to trial one month before the Democratic primary by Karl Rove’s best friend’s wife, who was the U.S. attorney in the Middle District of Alabama, on charges that theNew York Times said have never been a crime in America. Grant Woods, who’s the Republican—was the Republican attorney general fromArizona, said that they couldn’t beat Siegelman fair and square, so they targeted him with this prosecution. We have sworn testimony from a Republican political operative, Jill Simpson, who said that she was on a conversation with my prosecutor’s husband, who said that he had talked to Karl Rove, and Rove had spoken to the Department of Justice, and everything was wired in for them to—for the Department of Justice to pursue me.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That’s former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman speaking to Democracy Now! in 2006. Siegelman is now appealing his prison sentence three weeks before he’s scheduled to report to federal prison to complete a more than six-year sentence.

CRAIG UNGER: Right. Well, I think Siegelman is absolutely right. I mean, it’s not the prettiest part of the American political system, but it’s sort of standard operating procedure that sometimes campaign contributors get political appointments. And in Siegelman’s case, Siegelman personally got zero dollars. He appointed a contributor to a non-paying state-appointed position. And if he’s to go to jail—George W. Bush gave appointments to over a hundred campaign contributors and was not prosecuted on any one of those. And it really has been standard operating procedure. Hundreds of ambassadors throughout the years, in one administration after another, have been campaign contributors.

And what you see that happened—and this is really under Rove’s aegis—is selective prosecution. And I think there’s nothing more damaging democracy than when laws are applied only to one group. And as I began to research this, I saw that, you know, you may notice that a mayor ofAlabamawas indicted or investigated, a mayor ofHonoluluwas investigated just before an election, mayor ofMiami, mayor ofSan Francisco. And all in all, I found mayors of 12 major cities. There’sCleveland;Detroit;Portland,Oregon;New Orleans;Chicago;Philadelphia;Pittsburgh;MemphisandDallas. What do they all have in common? They are Democrats. They are governors and lieutenant governors from five states—Alabama,Hawaii,Michigan,New JerseyandMaryland—and on and on, over 200 politicians, and 85 percent of them are Democrats. And I think there’s no data suggests that the Democratic Party is seven times more corrupt than the Republicans.

AMY GOODMAN: But how do you tie this all to Karl Rove?

CRAIG UNGER: Well, there is the testimony, as Siegelman said, of a former Republican operative named Jill Simpson, and she testified before the House Judiciary Committee. Now—excuse me—Rove in GQ magazine said she didn’t dare mention his name. His name is in it zero times, zero times. I went back to the testimony. In fact, his name is in it at least 50 times, and it’s—and she explicitly makes it clear that he was involved. What happened with the Siegelman prosecution is a colleague of Rove’s named Bill Canary was sort of the Karl Rove out ofAlabama. He was handling the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Republican senatorial candidates and so forth. And who was appointedU.S. attorney inAlabama but Canary’s wife. So he was in this wonderful position. When he was running a campaign, his wife would simply indict the Democratic opponent. And that’s exactly what happened.

AMY GOODMAN: So now let’s go back toOhio, in fact,Ohio and SMARTech. This is the one chance you ever had to question Karl Rove about that.

CRAIG UNGER: Exactly. And I met Karl Rove inAlabama, and I asked him. And he said, “SMARTech? What’s that? I’ve never heard of it.”

Well, SMARTech is a high-tech company inChattanooga. And what you see with Rove’s methodology is he manages to have things happen in his benefit, and there are no fingerprints. But I traced the ownership of SMARTech and its precursors, and the original company was funded by two—its precursor, rather, was funded by two Republicans named Bill DeWitt and Mercer Reynolds. Mercer Reynolds was finance chairman of the Republican Party. In ’04, he raised about a quarter of a billion dollars for the Bush-Cheney campaign. And in the ’80s, they had bailed out George W. Bush in his oil ventures, DeWitt and Reynolds had. So they were very, very close to him.

And this company started off as a very legitimate high-tech company inChattanoogaduring the dot-com boom. It later reformed under a different name and different ownership, but by then it had become very much a political operation. So, this was a highly, highly partisan Republican high-tech company. It hosted—its biggest clients included the Bush-Cheney campaign, it included Jeb Bush, it included the Republican National Committee. It streamed live the convention, the Republican convention.

And somehow or other, in 2004, in the state of Ohio, which was the single most crucial state in the electoral college, when it came to the actual voting, the secretary of state of Ohio, a guy named Ken Blackwell—and the secretary of state’s job is to—part of it is to ensure fair, nonpartisan elections—happened to be co-chair of the Bush campaign. Now, there’s no conflict there. And he gave a contract to host the fail oversight for the Republican—rather, for the votes in 2004, to none other than SMARTech. And this is where things went a little crazy.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But how was that allowed to happen even? I mean—

CRAIG UNGER: Well, I mean, I think it is a huge conflict of interest on the face of it for the secretary of state of a party to be affiliated with one campaign or the other. And we saw it, of course, inFlorida in 2000 with Katherine Harris.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, 2004, election night, tell us the story.

CRAIG UNGER: Right, Well, about at 11:14 p.m., things started to happen, exactly 11:14 p.m. And as the votes came in, it was clear it was going to be an all-nighter in terms of the results. And around 11:00,Florida was called for Bush, and that meant the entire fate of the election hinged onOhio. So, suddenly—excuse me—the servers for the secretary of state’s computers were flooded with queries.

AMY GOODMAN: Ohio secretary of state.

CRAIG UNGER: Exactly. And they needed to lock into the fail oversight inChattanooga with SMARTech. And this is where the results went a little crazy. And suddenly, an enormous number of irregular returns came in, and the votes shifted. The exit polls had shown Kerry winningOhio, and therefore the election. And it looked like he had won the presidential election. I remember that day vividly because I was getting reports from the exit polls, and I went around telling people it looked like Kerry had won. But there was a 6.7 percent difference between the exit polls and the actual results. And as a result, the election ended up going to Bush. And that was the entire story.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In writing about what happened in Ohio as well as in Alabama, one of the things that you say about Rove is that a case can be made that for the last three decades he’s been putting a systematic attempt to game the American electoral system by whatever means necessary. What kind of vision does Karl Rove have for the Republican Party and for American politics?

CRAIG UNGER: Right. Well, I don’t think he’s an ideologue. I think he’s about winning. And he’s often been compared to a guy named Mark Hanna, who more than a century ago was the political mind behind President William McKinley. He was a senator fromOhio, but he was also a political operative who put McKinley in the White House and forged a realignment. There’s always been this talk of a permanent Republican majority that Rove is trying to forge, and he sees it, the nation, as being entirely Republican. And, in fact, I think that’s Rove’s line, and I don’t buy it.

He faces, and the Republican Party faces, an extraordinary challenge in the—with the Hispanic boom. There are now 50 million Hispanics in theUnited States. In 2020, at the current rate of growth, there will be 70 million. If they start to vote, they tend to lean heavily Democratic, and you will start to see states likeTexasandArizonaflip from red to blue. And Rove is trying to stop that. And one campaign he’s supported is what is known as a campaign fighting voter fraud. And as I found out, I think the fraud about—theBrennanCenterat the NYUSchool of Law says the fraud about—voter fraud is itself a fraud. And there have only been 10 documented cases of people voting under false names in the first decade of this century. So, why—but in response to that minuscule number, there are campaigns in more than 30 states to have voter—require voter IDs and so forth. This will inhibit voting from new immigrants, from minorities, from the elderly and so forth, who, again, lean heavily Democratic.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we go to break, I want to go one more time back toOhio, because you really focus on these issues in the book. Michael Connell, who he was, and what his death meant?

CRAIG UNGER: Right. Well, he was known as Rove’s sort of cyber-guru, and he had a company called New Media that was—hosted all its work at SMARTech, as I—the company I mentioned earlier. And what you see there is, again, a highly partisan Republican operative who gets involved in what are supposed to be nonpartisan activities. And there were a number of things going on there. What first struck my attention is he got contracts to host the House Judiciary Committee, the House Intelligence Committee, a lot of government committees, which included emails and so forth of Democrats. And I thought back to Watergate, of course, when the Republicans broke in to get one file from the Watergate office. Here, they presumably had access to thousands and thousands of files for many, many years. Whether they used that or not, I don’t really know.

They were also—you know, but Connell—one of the things that’s very interesting is how evidence disappeared again and again and again in this case. And what you saw is that in all of these scandals—in the U.S. attorneys scandal and the Valerie Plame scandal—Rove’s emails were subpoenaed, and they were hosted at SMARTech. And, oops, millions of emails mysteriously disappeared. Now, these were supposedly under the—protected by the Presidential Preservation Records Act [Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act], and the destruction of government documents is a very, very serious crime. But every attempt to investigate turns up naught. And Mike Connell became increasingly an important witness in this case. He was subpoenaed once. There was a case investigating the 2004 election. He was supposed to testify again. And finally, before he could testify again, he died in a plane crash, in a solo private plane.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to ask you about Stephen Spoonamore, a former John McCain supporter and a highly successful expert of the detection of computer fraud. In 2008, he named Mike Connell and his company, GovTech Solutions, as having played a crucial role in the electronic subversion of the vote in Ohio in 2004. I want to ask you more about Spoonamore, but first I want to turn to a 2008 interview Democracy Now! did with the media scholar Mark Crispin Miller [5] shortly after Mike Connell died in a plane crash. In this clip, Miller says Connell asked Spoonamore how one would go about destroying White House emails.

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Stephen Spoonamore is a conservative Republican, a former McCain supporter and a very prominent expert at the detection of computer fraud. He’s the star witness in theOhio lawsuit, right, in which Connell was involved. He has done extensive work of this kind, involving computer security, and had therefore worked with Connell, knew Connell personally and knew a lot of the people who were involved in the sort of cyber-security end of the Bush operation.

Despite his conservatism—or I suppose some would say because of it—he’s a man of principle—I mean, believes in the Constitution. He believes elections should be honest. He’s the one who came forward and named Connell.

And I have seen his notes of a conversation in which Connell asked Spoonamore how one would go about destroying White House emails. To this, Spoonamore said, “This conversation is over. You’re asking me to do something illegal.” But clearly, clearly—this is the important point—Mike Connell was up past his eyeballs in the most sensitive and explosive aspects of this crime family that, you know, has been masquerading as a political party.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Mark Crispin Miller speaking to Democracy Now!Do you think Ohio 2004 was stolen, and do you think it’s possible that something like that could happen in the 2012 election?

CRAIG UNGER: Well, there was no question there was massive fraud. If you want to actually count the votes, unfortunately it’s impossible because so much evidence was destroyed. And then that’s why Mike Connell was such an important witness, and his death meant that—you know, I quoted—I talked to Mike Connell’s sister, who said either—there are only two possibilities, really, that Connell was murdered—and I don’t see any evidence of that—or that he was in an accident, in which case Karl Rove is the luckiest man alive.

Could this happen again? I think—you know, I think electronic voting is very, very dangerous, and it’s very easy to manipulate. But I also found evidence inOhioof extraordinary kinds of fraud that could happen with punchcard ballots, as well, through very elaborate and byzantine means of—known as cross-voting. And I think a lot of people don’t realize, when you go into a voting booth and you see another voting booth nearby, if you voted the same way in the adjoining booth, in the wrong booth, or if your punchcard is counted by the different computer, it would register to a different vote. And we saw this happened—

AMY GOODMAN: I don’t understand.

CRAIG UNGER: Well, inOhio, they have what is known as a rotation of ballot. That is, they decide that—whoever’s at the top of the ballot has roughly a 2 percent advantage over the candidate below him. So, to compensate for that, they actually rotate the ballot sequence from one precinct to another, which makes a certain amount of sense. But the voter doesn’t know that. Now, if your—

AMY GOODMAN: So you might have Romney on top in one ballot, Obama on top on another ballot.

CRAIG UNGER: Exactly. So precinct one has Romney on top. If it’s counted by precinct two, however, the vote goes to the wrong person. And we saw a lot of that inOhio. And the giveaway was in an African-American precinct, where there were third-party people on the ballot there, including a white supremacist—someone linked to a white supremacist party. And suddenly in this African-American precinct, this—and African Americans tend to be very, very disciplined Democratic voters. They’ve been 95 percent Democratic in the past. And suddenly, this man who is linked to a white supremacist got 40 percent of the vote. And you could see exactly what had happened.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Craig Unger. His new book is Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove’s Secret Kingdom of Power. When we come back from break, how Karl Rove barely escaped indictment and rose to be the biggest powerhouse, political powerhouse, inAmerica today. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: ”MC Rove,” performed at the 2007 Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner, with NBC’s David Gregory, Karl Rove among the backup dancers. Yes, this is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. And we’re speaking with Craig Unger. His new book, Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove’s Secret Kingdom of Power. We’re going to turn right now to another scandal involving Karl Rove, the outing of former CIA agent Valerie Plame. The Bush administration outed her in retaliation for her husband Joe Wilson’s accusations that President Bush lied aboutIraq’s alleged efforts to purchase uranium formNiger before theIraq war. It was the whole deceit around weapons of mass destruction. Let’s begin by playing the famous comment of Joe Wilson in 2003.

JOSEPH WILSON: At the end of the day, it’s of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frogmarched out of the White House in handcuffs.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the famous comment of Joe Wilson, Valerie Plame’s husband, frogmarching Karl Rove out of the White House in handcuffs. Craig Unger, explain what the Valerie Plame scandal was and what Karl Rove had to do about—with it and why he was almost indicted.

CRAIG UNGER: Right. Well, the Valerie Plame scandal, of course, was—Joe Wilson had been an ambassador to African countries. He was sent to check out allegations that theRepublic ofNiger had sold or was trying to sell yellowcake uranium to Saddam Hussein. This became part of the 16 words in President Bush’s State of the Union address that called for war against and launched the war againstIraq. And the allegations, of course, were not just false, but they were based on forged documents. And worse than that, the forged documents had been revealed as forgeries, I found at least 14 times, within the administration before Bush’s speech, but they still got in it, and the war went ahead with it.

Since Wilson had discovered they were—the allegations were false, he later wrote a very famous column, an op-ed piece [6] in the New York Times, saying what I found in Africa ["What I Didn’t Find in Africa"], and he revealed that. And this was destroying the Rovian narrative, the Bush administration’s narrative. So, in retaliation, they outed his wife, Joe Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, who was a CIAagent, and exposed her. And that’s what it was all about. And this showed that they would stop at nothing to maintain their narrative. They were trying to discredit Joe Wilson. I think they sort of didn’t realize exactly how far they were going. And this was potentially a crime, so this started the whole Valerie Plame investigation.

Now, Bush said he would fire anyone who was responsible for this leak. And one thing that’s absolutely clear is that Rove, though he was not the only one—Scooter Libby was later indicted and convicted—Rove played a very, very key role in this. And he did leak Valerie Plame’s name—rather, her identity, that she was a wife. At one point he said, “I didn’t say her name.” Well, he said this is Joe — “Joe Wilson’s wife is a CIA agent. She set up everything.” And he told that toTime magazine reporter Matt Cooper. So, and Rove went on to lie about it again and again.

I think there’s, oddly enough, a link in those two clips you just showed of MC Rove dancing with the press and Joe Wilson, because what is important here, in some way, is the press’s complicity with this. What you see is, when Karl Rove is your source, you are beholden to him. I read Bob Novak’s memoirs, the late columnist, who was the man who first printed Valerie Plame’s name. And he says, rather tellingly, that “Karl Rove was my A-plus source for many, many years.” And he was sort of Novak’s meal ticket. And Novak goes on to say, “But when that happens, of course, you never write a critical word about him.” And a lot of the press was like that. And you see in that clip a lot of the correspondents dancing with Rove.

AMY GOODMAN: How did Rove escape indictment? I mean, Scooter Libby went down, Judith Miller.

CRAIG UNGER: Well, I think it was by a sheer stroke of luck. And there was a woman reporter at Time magazine named Viveca Novak—no relation to Bob Novak. And she would have drinks occasionally with Rove’s lawyer, Bob Luskin. And occasionally, they—during one conversation, Rove’s lawyer said, “Well, Karl is in danger from Matt Cooper at Time.” And she let it slip that, yes, he was. And this was—so, suddenly, Rove was being called before the grand jury, I think a total of five times. He had said again and again that he had not leaked it to anyone. He said that he didn’t recall any conversation with Matt Cooper. This turned out to be a lie, frankly. He had told this to Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary. He had told it to President Bush. This had been his story again and again. And he was finally caught in a lie, and now his attorney realized it. So Rove willingly asked to go back to the grand jury and correct the information. And on that basis alone, I believe he escaped a perjury indictment.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: You also talk in your book about Rove’s relationship to the judiciary. You say that no other political strategist in history has ever been so deeply indebted to the U.S. Supreme Court, and you talk about a couple of key decisions that went along with what Rove was lobbying for.

CRAIG UNGER: Right, exactly. I mean, there are two United States Supreme Court decisions that are among the two most controversial in history. And one, of course, is in 2000, Bush v. Gore, and the Supreme Court, by a five-to-four margin, effectively appointed Rove’s candidate president of the United States. And again in 2010, also by a five-to-four majority, the Citizens United decision opened the gateway for the super PACs and for the billion dollars Rove controls today.

And Rove has always known this, I think, about the judiciary—excuse me. InTexasin—back in the ’80s, he started taking over the Texas Supreme Court, and he flipped it from heavily Democratic to heavily Republican. He did the same inAlabama. A lot of people don’t realize he had a real power base inAlabama. And he played a key role in the appointment ofU.S.attorneys. And it’s also—one of his clients was John Ashcroft ofMissouri, and Rove made—got him appointed attorney general of theUnited States.

AMY GOODMAN: And he was one of the names being mentioned if Akin were to pull out.


AMY GOODMAN: We only have a minute to go. As you wrote this book, as you wrote Boss Rove, what most surprised you? What do you think it’s most important to understand about this man who has now become perhaps the most powerful political operative inAmerica?

CRAIG UNGER: Well, I think it’s the enduring aspect of the changes. We see it in the Siegelman going to jail, that this is—this started over 10 years ago with Siegelman, and now he’s going to jail perhaps for eight years. I just think it’s an absolute travesty. And Siegelman is just one example out of dozens and dozens. So, you have what I think are real threats to democracy that have a lasting power, and with things like the voter suppression drive, that these—a lot of these issues are real threats to democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: Craig Unger, we want to thank you very much for being with us, author of Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove’s Secret Kingdom of Power. It hits the bookshelves on September 4th. He’s contracting editor at Vanity Fair, where you can read an excerpt [7] from Boss Rove. We’ll link to it on our website.

That does it for the show. We’ll be broadcasting two-hour specials every day from the Republican and Democratic conventions.


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How a Shadowy Network of Corporate Front Groups Distorts the Marketplace of Ideas

Cynicism Is Corporate America’s Greatest Weapon. Disarm It

Plutocrats Feeling Persecuted

The Sick Ayn Randian War Against Everyone Who Isn’t Rich

Meet the Elite Business and Think-Tank Community That’s Doing Its Best to Control the World

Mankind: Death by Corporation

How Corporations Are Subverting Attempts to Rein in Their Power

Pro-Capitalist, Anti-Government Extremists

The Dumbest Idea in the World”: Corporate America’s False — and Dangerous — Ideology of Shareholder Value

The Corporate Bully Whose Front Groups, Willful Distortions and Hate-Mongering Has Poisoned U.S. Politics: Meet Richard Berman By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet, November 24, 2013  … Dr. Evil is Richard Berman, a Washington-based lawyer-turned-hitman for Big Food who pioneered and still deploys many of the most intentionally deceptive, inflammatory and anti-democratic tactics used in corporate propaganda campaigns today. For nearly four decades, Berman’s attacks have tried to smear, discredit and destroy public-interest causes and groups by a toxic brew of industry front groups, distortion-filled attacks, ridicule and bullying to stoke prejudice and hatred as a means of turning the public’s attention and regulators away from his paymasters’ business practices…Can one man really be held responsible for large slices of any era’s excesses, especially in a city as dominated by opportunists as Washington, D.C.? The answer is yes, there are people who are emblematic of political eras. Ronald Reagan was the “Teflon president,” evading [12] criticism that stuck. Lee Atwater was the dark political operator who revived [13] the GOP’s racist attack machinery for George H.W. Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign. In Berman’s case, there is a decades-long record of gleefully [5] taking fights into the gutter….Why would Berman and his backers go after a group like the Humane Society of the U.S… their warnings and advocacy threaten how Big Food—the corporate-dominated food and beverage industry paying Berman—makes its fortune….In May, the Boston Globe’s deputy Washington bureau chief Michael Kranish [14] wrote a magazine-length report [15] on Washington’s “industry of distortion,”…Berman boasted about winning on emotion—not truth. “Emotional understanding is very different; it stays with you,” Berman said. “Intellectual understanding is a fact and facts trump other facts. When I understand something in my gut, you’ve got me in a very different way.”“We should attack their credibility using ridicule and humor; not for what they’ve said but for who they are.” Now 70, he has used front groups and exaggerated facts flung with a disregard for public consequences for decades…With little legal recourse, Berman’s targets have worked with the media to try to expose his dark tactics….But these more civil tactics—seeking IRS review, being upbraided in the mainstream media—don’t derail a street fighter who enjoys bullying…If anything, Washington’s political culture has been embracing [31] Berman’s thuggery. October’s federal government shutdown, the ongoing Obamacare and budget wars, and the routine vilification of critics are all signs of increasingly poisoned politics…Berman described himself as a fighter for corporations in an era dominated by do-gooders. “Businesses themselves don’t find it convenient to take on causes that might seem politically incorrect,” he said. “And I am not afraid to do that.” Berman says he isn’t in interested in policy debates and position papers, but gut punches that people will remember…His staff goes through government reports, activist press releases, policy papers and books by anyone who might stand in the way of unfettered corporate profits. They take aim by seizing on small points…and blow up that trifle to smear a reputation, organization or agenda…The methodology is twisting the truth, exaggerating facts that are totally acceptable to make them sound corrupt, and fanning cliches or prejudice to evoke emotional reactions that take the public’s eye away from real scrutiny of, or accountability for, his clients’ exploitive business practices…Berman’s sponsors reveals why he has had a four-decade run as a corporate hit man. With the backing of tobacco, booze and then Big Food, he has created industry front groups, kept his sponsors’ identities largely hidden, developed a political playbook based on smears, distortions and hate-mongering, and seen the campaign and lobbying profession embrace his poisonous and destructive methodology. America’s political culture has become uglier and more hate-filled in recent decades, and Richard Berman has played a singular roll in that descent into the gutter.

Corporate Elites Are Witnessing a Growing Wave of Resistance to the ‘Walmartization’ of Our Economy By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, AlterNet, November 29, 2013 - The struggle of working Americans took center stage as Black Friday protests covered the country.  The struggle for wages that do not leave families impoverished is one that affects us all and highlights the unfair economy created by a class war waged by the wealthy for decades.  The ‘Walmartization’ of the US economy has created a downward spiral in wages and destroyed small businesses and communities while heightening the wealth divide that is at the root of so many problems.  The war on working people is a war on all but the wealthiest Americans. The people are fighting back and the elites recognize it. We have seen how aggressive they are in how they responded to Occupy and other protest movements. Thousands of Americans have been arrested exercising their Right to Assembly…Noam Chomsky writes in his new book, Occupy: Class War, Rebellion and Solidarity, that the “business class” is always engaged in class warfare. They continually act to protect their interests, wealth and power. The class war manifests itself in every aspect of our lives from the attack on our public institutions and civil liberties to climate change and the global race to the bottom and racially unfair police enforcement and mass incarceration.  It defines our foreign policy including trade agreements rigged for big business and wars for resources, cheap labor and the positioning of American Empire…Henry Giroux recently spoke with Bill Moyers about his book Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism. Giroux said, “The real changes are going to come in creating movements that are longstanding, that are organized, that basically take questions of governance and policy seriously and begin to spread out and become international.” An area in which this is happening to a great extent is in global trade. The World Trade Organization (WTO) will meet in Bali, Indonesia on December 3. Ever since the Seattle protests in 1999, the WTO has been unable to move forward on their agenda. This week WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo announced [9] they were unable to move forward once again.  U.S. Ambassador to the WTO Michael Punke expressed “great sadness,” while we applauded the failure of corporate trade. Activists and small countries being bullied should be wary, this could be a negotiating ploy and they need to continue to fight back. We are on the cusp of a new era of fair trade instead of rigged corporate trade. Our tasks are to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which is reaching completion and the new Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TAFTA) from being signed into law and then go on the offense to demand a trade process that is inclusive, democratic and transparentWorkers and Communities Unite Against Walmart…We can think of no other corporation that has caused as much damage to the working class, communities and the overall economy as Walmart.  Poverty wages, destruction of local business and the obscene wealth divide are at the door of the largest retailer in the nation. The six Walton heirs have more wealth than the bottom 40 percent [16] of Americans. Walmart is the largest private employer in the world and has extensive supply lines but its unethical business practices are driving the world economy in the wrong direction. The Walton family wealth has come at a tremendous price for the rest of us. They’ve gained this wealth by squashing worker rights, lowering wages and draining our local tax dollars, and they show no signs of changing course. After the disastrous collapse of the factory in Bangladesh which killed over 1,000 workers, many companies signed on to a new accord to prevent it from happening again. Walmart, along with GAP, refuses to sign [17] the accord. Walmart could easily provide a living wage. A recent study by Demos shows it would even be in their best interest to do so because it would stimulate the whole economy. And there are signs that Walmart is feeling the heat. The CEO, Michael Duke, announced this week that he will step down. And Walmart hired a public relations firm  to smear Walmart protesters. Our sense is that this effort will backfire as it shows the desperation of this Goliath that will fall to mobilized Davids. In fact, Walmart is not the only corporation that mistreats its workers; it’s just the largest one. Here is a list of ten American companies [29] that pay the least. In addition to Walmart employees, other workers are fighting for a living wage. Fast food workers and those who make supplies [30] for the fast food restaurants have also been holding strikes and rallies. Airport workers from Seattle to Minneapolis to New York [31] are organizing for higher pay and winning in the case of Seattle…Persistence and Solidarity are Key Ingredients…A Cultural Transformation…We are in a war that reaches into every aspect of our lives. Giroux describes it as “a war on the mind. The war on what it means to be able to dissent, the war on the possibility of alternative visions.” He goes on to say that we are in “A war on the possibility of an education that enables people to think critically, a war on cultural apparatuses that entertain by simply engaging in this spectacle of violence….”In addition to building a global movement, Giroux calls for a cultural transformation. We need to find places where people can connect to talk about the world they want to create and then strategize about how to make it a reality. We need to move outside of the constraints inherent in our current economic structure and use our collective wisdom and power to build new systems based on values that lift up communities and heal the planet. The cultural transformation begins with dispelling myths and facing the truth…We see people doing creative resistance that reflects these values on a daily basis and report on much of it at Popular Resistance [51].  There is so much going on that we cannot cover it all, and we know the potential is even greater.  Connect with people in your community. One person suggested forming a Popular Resistance meet-up and others are joining struggles for workers, the environment, youth, to end war, end police abuse and so much more.  There is room for you in this movement. When you get involved, you will find that your frustration at the mis-direction of our country lessens because you will see that you are not alone. Many are working for the transformation we know we need with persistence and in solidarity. This article is produced by [52] in conjunction with AlterNet.  It is based on’s weekly newsletter [53] reviewing the activities of the resistance movement. Sign up for the daily news digest of Popular Resistance, here. 

The Source of Corporate Power by Robert C. Koehler,, January 28, 2010 …landmark Supreme Court decision marking some sort of culmination in the long corporate trek to personhood…The 5-4 decision in the long-awaited Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case overturns restrictions on corporate spending to influence election results, giving entities with millions (in some cases, billions) of dollars at their disposal unlimited license to electioneer for the candidate with the friendliest attitude toward their interests.
The tendency of money and power is to concentrate, of course. The big trick, from a human perspective, is to make sure our core values remain pre-eminent, that they are served by the ways in which we concentrate power. Democracy is the great mechanism for doing so…the wakeup message in this nakedly cynical ruling by the Roberts Court, with its slim (but sufficient) right-wing majority, is that the concept of democracy is mortally wounded
This is an “activist” judicial decision, that is to say, a decision that serves a prior agenda, with any principles cited (e.g., the sanctity of free speech) sheer window dressing in service to a larger, and covert, cause…could have been decided on narrow grounds. The court chose instead to expand the scope of the case, making it into a challenge of existing laws that regulate corporate election spending…
I see little hope for a gullible nation that allows the tube to hemorrhage urgent inanities directly into its consciousness for 18 hours a day. This gullibility is the source of corporate power. Democracy can only thrive where people think for themselves.

Five Ways Privatization Degrades America by by Paul Buchheit, Com­mon Dreams, August 13, 2012

How Corporate Personhood Threatens Democracy by Tom Stites, Unitarian Universalist World magazine, March 2003

How corporations became ‘persons’ By Tom Stites, UUA World, May/June 2003 5.1.03

We Are in the Midst of Defeating the Largest Corporate Trade Agreement in History By Margaret Flowers, Kevin Zeese, AlterNet, November 15, 2013   …We need to know the truth in order to participate in the great debates that shape our futures…the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)  will provide extraordinary patent protections and internet restrictions designed to further enrich the wealthy while the race to the bottom accelerates. A confluence of events this week has weakened the chances of the TPP’s survival… Opposition to the TPP continues to build…We are in a historic moment of people vs. the corporations.  We are in the midst of defeating the largest trade agreement in history….information he released to Wikileaks and other media outlets revealed the cooperation between private and government security agencies and methods used to stifle dissent, including monitoring the Occupy movement, as well as their strategies for defeating movementsthe truth destroys corrupt power….We live in a time of crisis, but also in a time of opportunityKnowledge is essential for popular power. … there is a “rise in worldwide populist activism…Every day we see that more people are embracing their power and joining the popular resistance so feared by the elites. People are making our own history; setting the world on a new course. Much work is needed to begin the world anew, each must do what they can. Join us.