Killers of the Dream
The Supreme Court Subverts Democracy and Promotes Plutocracy
In a 5-4 decision the United States Supreme Court ruled to overturn a decision by the Supreme Court of Montana upholding the validity of a century old election law forbidding corporations from contributing to candidates in state elections. The Montana Court ruling posed a direct challenge to the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case, in which the Court held that corporate contributions to political campaigns were covered by the free speech rights afforded under the First Amendment.
This ruling effectively said corporations are people – a sentiment recently echoed by presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But since the Montana law banning corporations from contributing to political parties or candidates was prompted by the historic corruption of the political process by corporate money, the people of Montana thought they were standing on solid legal ground.
Yet Justice Kennedy had confidently written an opinion in the Citizens United case arguing that this ruling would not lead to political corruption, or even the appearance of corruption. It was a naïve view of the corrupting effects of corporate money on politics that flies in the face of history.
Hence the Montana case was welcomed by critics of the Citizens United ruling, because we thought now that we have seen the corrosive effect of the Super packs, with their vast sums of anonymous money, on the integrity of our political process the court would see the error of their ways and reconsider their decision.
Instead, to our horror, the court stood firm and made it clear that there are no exceptions, not-withstanding the history of political corruption financed by corporate interests such as in Montana. The High Court’s decision was so shocking to Montanans that both Democratic governor Brian Schweitzer, and his Republican lieutenant governor John Bohlinger, stood shoulder to shoulder on the Capitol to denounce the Courts ruling.
It was a remarkable event because the Democrats and Republicans in Montana have been embroiled in rancorous partisan battles, in which the Democratic governor has been using a hot cattle branding iron to veto bills coming out of the Republican controlled legislature. But on this issue they stood united in defense of their century old election law, which has served this state well in terms of preventing corporate money from corrupting their politics.
“Now, Republicans and Democrats don’t always agree on policy matters,” said the Republican lieutenant governor, “but there’s one thing we do agree on, and that is, corporate money should not influence the outcome of an election.” His remarks were co-signed by Governor Schweitzer, a Democrat, who said “Here in Montana, we have a proud, 100-year history of keeping corporate money out of our elections. Corporations aren’t people, and they should not control our government. Montana stood up for democracy, here at home and on behalf of America, by fighting to keep our ban on corporate campaign spending. The United States Supreme Court blocked our state law, because they said corporations are people. I’ll believe that when Texas executes one.”
The Montana Election Law of 1912, known as the Corrupt Practices Act, was passed during the era of the “Robber Barons,” the newly ascendant Wall Street financiers and “Captains of Industry,” a time when the great American fortunes were being made.
It was just two years after Andrew Carnegie built the first billion dollar corporation, United States Steel. With no income tax – which was introduced in 1913 – the super-rich had a lot of money to spend. And in Montana the “Copper Kings,” who owned the world’s richest copper mines were throwing money around among politicians like confetti.
William F. Andrews
He bought a Senate seat
He bribed legislators all over the state
The Copper Kings consisted of two ruthless businessmen, Marcus Daly and William Andrews Clark, who used the vast wealth they accumulated from the copper business to monopolize the wealth of Montana. For instance, Clark owned 13 copper mines and a smelter to process it in Arizona. He also owned banks, newspapers, a railroad and the town of Las Vegas in the state of Montana.
Marcus Daly, who was an Irish immigrant, owned two Montana towns – Anaconda and Hamilton – plus the richest copper mine in America: the Anaconda mine in Butte Montana. They were joined by a lesser light, F. Augustus Heinz, a financial speculator who came out from Brooklyn.
In their battle to control the state these men bought most of the state legislature and even a US senate seat from the state. The bribery was so blatant the United States Senate refused to seat the winner of the election, Williams Andrews Clarke.
None of this corruption would have surprised Thomas Jefferson, who tried unsuccessfully to include an anti-monopoly clause in the Bill of Rights. Failing that Jefferson declared: “I hope that we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” Over half a century later, as the American Civil War was limping to an end, one of the nation’s most famous corporate lawyers wrote the following warning.
“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed…god grant that my suspicions prove groundless.”
This excerpt is from a letter written by Abraham Lincoln’s to Colonel William F. Elkins, on Nov. 21, 1864. Well, I don’t know if God was listening, but the right-wing ideologues on the high court has paid him no mind, Alas Abe’s prediction is becoming prophecy.
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
June 28, 2012