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How a Corporatist Supreme Court Cabal Joined Forces With Right Wing and Kochs to Quietly Sell Out Our Democracy

Corrupt, right-wing Supreme Court justices are abusing their power, fraternizing with the Koch brothers and fixing elections (among other horrors).

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Interestingly, none in this bloc of five has ever run for office, much less won. So they have no real- life experience with the way big money suffocates democracy, both in politics and in the close confines of government decision-making. Worse, all of them express an uncommonly deep contempt for a truly democratic process, in which the people would reign over corporations, allowing grassroots human endeavor and ideas to trump the blunt force of money.

They really should talk to their shrinks about this psychosis. But, meanwhile, they keep working out their contempt on us, not only by jacking up the clout of corporate players, but also by slapping down grassroots efforts to give people power a path around the ever-rising money barrier:

2006. Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas vote to overturn limits that the people of Vermont placed on campaign contributions.

2007. The same five throw out Wisconsin's effort to keep corporations from swamping their elections with last-minute ad blitzes.

2008. The same five strike down the "millionaire's amendment," a part of the McCain-Feingold election finance reform passed by Congress in 2002; this provision had allowed candidates who were confronted by self-financed millionaire opponents to raise more money than otherwise allowed in order to level the playing field.

June 27, 2011. The same five kill the "matching funds" provision of Arizona's Citizens Clean Elections Act--a provision that was key to making the state's extremely popular and successful public financing system work.

The Arizona ruling was a stinging slap in the face to the conscientious citizens of that state. Arizonans have labored diligently to free their politics from the corruption of big money, while also opening the possibility of holding office to those who don't have piles of money or don't want to be beholden to those who do. Nauseated in the 1990s by an epidemic of gubernatorial and legislative scandals, the people themselves launched a grassroots initiative to get the democracy-destroying corrosion of special-interest political contributions out of their elections. In 1998, Arizona voters emphatically said, "yes."

Their Clean Elections Act established a voluntary public financing system that gave office-seekers of all parties and all economic classes an alternative, no-strings-attached way to finance their campaigns. By agreeing not to take any special interest contributions, these candidates received a fixed sum of public money--enough for them to be competitive under normal campaign conditions and have their voices heard. However, abnormal happens. So, if clean-running contenders found their voices being drowned out by a flood of special interest cash flowing to a rival, the "matching funds" provision allowed them to get a limited level of extra money from the public fund to help counter the free-spending opponent's unfair advantage.

It is this matching mechanism that the mammon-worshipping Supremes went after. Why? Because it works. Former Governor Janet Napolitano, for example, says she could not have even considered running for Arizona's top office without the availability of this funding alternative, but with it she won two terms. A majority of all parties' candidates use the Clean law, and it is enormously popular with the public.

But the corporate powers hate, hate, hate it, for it diminishes their political control. Having failed again and again to repeal it at the state level, they turned to the vipers nest of Koch-funded, right-wing policy fronts to find a way for the federal courts to inter- vene and do their dirty work. With support from the American Legislative Exchange Council (see Feb. 2011 Lowdown) and the Institute for Justice, this clique developed a perversely-novel theory of law, framed it into a lawsuit, and had the Republican leader of the state house, John McComish, sign on as plaintiff.