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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Voter-owned elections" was unconstitutional anyway

We are not the world's premiere constitutional scholar, but this decision yesterday by the U.S. Supreme Corp., invalidating Arizona's "clean elections" public campaign finance scheme, strongly indicates that Portland's quixotic "clean money" system was also illegal.

Not to mention foolish. Not to mention contrary to the will of the majority of the city's beleaguered taxpayers.

As much as we're glad to see a bad idea get buried even deeper, we're sad to see the nation's High Court once again side with big money. Corporations seem to have more rights than real people any more, and real people of means have a clear advantage over everyone else. No wonder the middle class is disappearing. You can almost hear Justice Clarence Thomas humming "That's What Friends Are For."

When a hot case like Arizona "clean elections" comes into the Supreme Court these days, four liberal knees and four conservative knees jerk up in opposite directions. That leaves the deciding vote, time and again, to Justice Anthony Kennedy. He is peculiarly susceptible to ideas that sound good in theory, but are a disaster on the ground. One such is the notion, bouncing around for 40 years now, that spending money on political campaigns is included in what the Constitution means by "speech." Too bad, but barring a constitutional amendment, that one's now set in stone.

"Clean money" was a waste of tax revenue in Portland's case -- I'm sure we never got a penny back from Emilie Boyles, for instance -- but its future was properly decided by a public vote. The rich people didn't need, and didn't deserve, to have the Constitution dragged in to invalidate it.

Comments (17)

I voted to end voter-owned elections because I thought it was poorly designed and executed -- not to mention it was another leech sucking the blood of Water Bureau ratepayers -- but I sympathize with the intent behind it and the folks who wanted to keep it. There's no realistic counterweight to the wealthy elite at the top and the labor unions at the bottom who have the money to elect their chosen puppets.

The so-called supreme court has turned our democratic processes over in their entirety to corporate interests.

The role of the Supreme Court is to identify criminal behavior by corporations and make it legal so that these crimes can never happen again.
I noticed there wasn't a lot of discussion in the media about the recent Janus case that's been called a blueprint for how Wall Street can defraud investors without fear of prosecution - assuming for a moment that they don't own the government and wouldn't face prosecution in the first place.
Personally, I got it about Scalia when he argued that torture was not cruel and unusual punishment, because you weren't trying to punish the inmates, you were trying to torture them.
That's the "through the looking glass" moment for me.

There hasn't been a genuine liberal on the Supreme Court since Brennan and Marshall retired in the early '90s. What we have now are four centrists, four hard-right reactionaries and one conservative in the Nixon-Ford-Bush Sr mold. In past eras, the presence of just a couple of true liberals meant that an otherwise conservative court could sometimes be shamed into doing the right thing (Brown v. Board, Roe v. Wade, etc.) That doesn't happen at all nowadays. It's 5-to-4 on practically everything that isn't unanimous.

Portland's scheme violated a state statute, and should not have ever required resorting to a constitution-based challenge.

I wish that the anti-corporation folks (and the city of Portland is a corporation too) would isolate on the issue of the taint of foreign ownership. Demand that the corporate speaker be completely free of the taint of foreign ownership.

Regardless of whether the city of Portland's scheme is/was folly or not, as compared to private corporate political speech, at least it does not have any direct foreign ownership.

"U.S. Supreme Corp." - that's perfect. Sad but true.

In past eras, the presence of just a couple of true liberals meant that an otherwise conservative court could sometimes be shamed into doing the right thing

I don't know that it was the presence of a true liberal, so much as the influence of someone like Brennan who could make an eloquent argument for doing the right thing, along with the ability of the conservative justices to actually listen to that argument and process it. Look at Gideon V. Wainwright, which was a unanamous decision that included Stewart, Harlan II, Clark, and White. Today, we have Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, who are incapable of such a process.

What I'm not seeing here is the logical and concomitant complaint about big labor spending on campaigns. And I'm not either, by the way. In a pluralistic society people have the right to band together and pool their resources to attempt to influence government.

Interesting decision. But I have to say that even as a lefty, and general supporter of public financing, I have always agreed with the Court's decision that money is speech. It sounds awful as a sound bite, sure, but boil it down to its essence: If I, as an individual, want to "speak" to my fellow citizens about something, the only effective way to do that (shouting on a street corner doesn't do it) is to disseminate information, which costs money. Now imagine if I wanted to spend $5,000 to print up fliers, but the government told me I could only spend $2,500? Would anyone really argue that's constitutional? And of course if that's unconstitutional, then the (unintended) outcome is that someone who wants to spend $50k, or $500k, or $500m must be able to do the same.

The Arizona case is odd, however, in that the majority is arguing that the free speech rights of the wealthy are harmed by publicly-funded speech of the non-wealthy -- even though the wealthy could have taken the public funding but chose not to. As Kagan says, that is chutzpah.

Money may be speech, but who says corporations are persons whose speech is protected?

It is clear that the so-called Conservatives on the court want wealthy Republicans in office. Fiscal issues aside, the Arizona laws promoted free speech, which I guess is why the court voted against it, I mean only the rich have that right.

See this comment


Money may be speech, but who says corporations are persons whose speech is protected?

The Supreme Court. Sort of. In 1886, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, the headnote (a summary) of the decision claimed that the justices had all agreed that the 14 Amendment applied to corporations, and, essentially, making them persons under the law. The funny thing -- the justices had not said anything of the sort in their decision. Soooo.. ever since then, Corps have been legally people under the law. With constitutional rights. And despite the fact that most justices have know that the case didn't address the issue of the "personhood" of corporations, no one has ever revised the error.

If I'm wrong, please, someone, correct me.

3H, your analysis is correct. According to an article in Common Dreams last fall:

“In the decision itself the Supreme Court never ruled on personhood, but a former railroad president named J.C. Bancroft Davis who was the court reporter put the "ruling" in the decision's headnote:

‘The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.’ "

Jack I really don’t understand your objections to the general principle of voter-owned elections. If you think democracy is a good idea, (and some people don’t), I don’t see how you can object to the idea of seeking some mechanism to level the playing field. As it is, candidates have to be either wealthy or in the pockets of big money to have a reasonable chance to win. I’ve read comments by a number of retiring legislators that they had to spend 90% of their time fundraising. That was before the recent Supreme Court decision that opened the bank vaults to so that candidates can back unmarked trucks right into them & load up.

Portland’s experiment was badly designed. It was too easy to cheat. A couple of people cheated. Ordinary people are drowning in debt & the big guns came out & played on the public’s disgust with government spending. That failure could have been/ could be a learning experience. But I think we must work out some kind of public funding if we are to have any chance of achieving a functioning democracy. Of course the Supreme Court has scuttled that, at least for now.

Speaking of it being too easy to cheat... shall we talk about electronic voting and vote tallying?

"...As it is, candidates have to be either wealthy or in the pockets of big money to have a reasonable chance to win."

Which one is President Obama?

Having been from Arizona, I can bear witness to the usefulness of the Clean Election system in at least offsetting the rampant plague of election fraud in the state. It's demise, like its public health program, is the result of incubated, nurtured power grab by the moneyed interests of the state.

Maricopa County, containing Phoenix, is the second largest voting district in the country. It's amusing to watch the rest of the nation's population scratch their heads and marvel at the level of idiocy among the state legislatures as they introduce immigration bills like SB1070 (only designed to discourage legal Hispanics from voting) and openly declare the earth's age of 6,000 years. They high-five each other once someone dies in need of a transplant.

Nobody seems willing to understand that none of these idiots occupying these state rep and senate seats were actually elected. Karen Osborne, the Maricopa Elections Administrator, is one of the worst, most corrupt bureaucrats rivaled only by Tucson, Arizona's Pima Elections head, Brad Nelson.


Having spent over half a year in this strange state of Oregon, I actually get the impression that the population is getting what its voting for. So I tell myself, "Gotta find out what it means with this voter-owned election stuff". Then I ask myself, "How the hell are they monitoring all mail-in ballots when mail-in ballots have so many opportunities for election fraud? Mail-in's are also extremely difficult (if not impossible) to audit when the outcomes are questionable.

PR puts the nations focus on the dubious scourge of "vote fraud" to direct attention away from "election fraud", which is truly rampant throughout the country.

So far, what makes places like Portland "weird" is that which is actually done right. Granted, newbies notice right away that the local power company needs to be dealt with and that there's a creepy push to defund and crapify public schools to give a private school leg up on behalf of the not-so-bright offsprings of the rich and powerful breeding amongst themselves.

Based on experiencing how bad it could get in a state like Arizona, perhaps I suffer from "mail-order bride syndrome".

I think it's a perversion to say that money is speech. Sure, money buys speech. Money also buys coffin nails, but money isn't a coffin nail-- although in terms of a functioning democracy, it's closer to being a coffin nail than it is to being speech!

It's perfectly legitimate and sensible to argue that it's constitutional to limit campaign spending. An informed public is so necessary to a healthy democracy that the founding fathers regarded journalism as the "fourth estate" of government-- the first three being the executive, the legislative and the judicial. Why should speaking effectively to fellow citizens about something as fundamental and vital as elections require spending fortunes?

The airwaves, we too easily forget, are owned by the people. They are only leased to the corporations who run them. It would be in the public’s inerest for media leases to be granted on the condition that in the electoral season, free air time is available to any candidate who has a certain degree of public support, expressed via petition.

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