Supreme Court Justice John Paul StevensI can tell you from having been on the front lines of the high-rollers who keep politicians in office that – while not all are looking for a special tax loophole for their industry or an appointment to the Court of St James – they absolutely have unparalleled access to elected office holders.  So, I was struck by David Kirpatrick’s emphasis simply on no proof of corruption in his NYT piece “Does Corporate Money Lead to Political Corruption?  I was at Harvard’s JFK School of Government  a year before I was the NY Finance Chair and the National Vice Chair of the euphemistically named 1988 Democratic Presidential Victory Fund.  That’s when the Times coined a phrase I agree with, “sewer money,” which ended more than a decade of my high-level political fundraising.

 I had a professor who’d gone from a Harvard undergrad to a Harvard grad student to a Harvard adjunct to a Harvard tenured professor and had never so much as stood on a corner to register a single voter.  One of his first lectures had a title like “Why People Vote the Way They Do.”  He quoted the 1954 University of Chicago Berelson study and even footnotes from other academic papers that built off or disputed its findings.  After his lecture I said, “I find it remarkable that you just gave a lecture about how electoral opinions are formed and you never once mentioned the word money.” 

 With a straight face he said, “There’s no empirical evidence that money affects elections in any way.  Have you done a regression analysis on that?”  Many of the political science professors quoted in Kirpatrick’s piece seem to imply something similar.  OK, perhaps not out-flat bribery or actual transactional “a buck for your vote, sir,” but these major donors definitely get to spend a lot of professional and personal time with those who are going to vote on key issues.  Right now I’m picturing a particular bash on Nantucket where I was dancing with leaders of the US Senate: really easy to just drop an idea, oh so casually, if one was so inclined.

Thus, the insight that informs the comment of long-time Common Cause President Fred Wertheimer quoted in the article, “You can’t prove a negative, but…”  At a time when the distance between those in power and those who are feeling the burden of having virtually no power continues to grow – with considerable anger on the right and the left – we must take a stronger stance than having to prove corruption: undue influence should cause enough concern. 

This is why I agree with Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’  assessment that the majority were wrong to treat corporate speech the same as that of human beings.  I am heartsick when I anticipate the vitriol we can expect from election campaigns to come.  And I am saddened to see more than 80 years of laws protecting the integrity of elections – from the 1925 Federal Corrupt Practices Act  to the formation of the Federal Election Commission in 1974 in response to Watergate to the 2002 “McCain-Feingold” Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act – eviscerated.

I’m keeping vigil on what happens next, including following initiatives like those of Ultimate Civics and the Campaign to Reform Democracy that are calling for a Constitutional Amendment.  While I’m not an advocate of that, I am interested in changing anything that reinforces the Corporate Personhood Doctrine.  And, I would like to see that sewer money kept away from our politicians.

So, “we, the people,” I welcome your thoughts on money, politics and the impact of this Supreme Court decision

{ 14 comments… add one }

  • Jamie Holts January 24, 2010, 9:03 pm


    I’m just getting started with my new blog. Would you want to exchange links on our blog-rolls?

    BTW – I’m up to about 100 visitors per day.

  • Tom Schulte January 25, 2010, 7:21 am

    More speech: messy headaches. Better results.

  • Lynne Yeannakis January 25, 2010, 11:30 am

    I am still in “shock” over this decision. It is hard these days to keep being optimistic about the possibilities of real change in the way we govern ourselves. Please keep me posted on what can be done.

  • Theresa January 25, 2010, 11:22 pm

    I still can’t believe it nor can I imagine the consequences. I fear the actual impacts of this decision. Thanks, Nadine for your insightful thoughts.

  • Gary Pollack January 25, 2010, 11:42 pm

    I’m trying to find efforts that will minimize the “private” influences on our government and now this decision? I just wonder if companies will be considered humans when they are prosecuted for injustices.

  • Susan January 26, 2010, 8:47 am

    My only hope is that this will backfire on the conservative element. Over the years I have seen it happen again and again. I have found that the consequences of any change are unknowable. Anyway, I tell myself this so I can get through the day.

  • JERRY DUNFEY---PRES---GLOBAL CITIZENS CIRCLE January 26, 2010, 9:52 am


  • carl silverbeg January 26, 2010, 2:57 pm

    Money buys access and that’s usually it unless someone is corrupt. My experience has been that it’s an ex-post facto thing; people support elected officials who support their point of view. The perversion with unlimited corporate money is not that they tend to support Republicans and therefore that is bad for Dems, it’s that free speech protects individuals. A corporation is not a living breathing entity. A corporation is a collection of people. I don’t get the free speech protection. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction so it’s not the large public corporations we need to worry about, it’s the ability of the “Swift Boat” types to pour enough money into a campaign, from people who are not publicly identified to impact a race. That’s the big concern. Let them do what they want and make all contributions public and up on the internet within 24 hours. That levels the playing field and then it becomes grassroots vs. the oligarchs!

  • Robert Kesten January 26, 2010, 3:13 pm

    There is not one founding father (or mother) who equated free speech with money. Certainly as the franchise to vote expanded money played a bigger and bigger role, including the purchase of votes and bringing in ringers to vote in specific districts, although they did not live there and often were not even citizens. Elections turned on this, but for most of this time only white males could vote, so it was easier to identify fraud.
    It is ironic that the US Supreme Court made its decision in the 150th anniversary year of Abraham Lincoln’s election as president. That too was a time of national division, a Court disrespected by a vast part of the population due to the Dred Scott and other decisions and a period when Know Nothing Party’s power was ebbing and the historic Democratic party was in tatters.
    Although it is sometimes too easy to point to history to prove a point, it is essential that we remember history so that we don’t repeat its mistakes. It would be a shame if Justice Roberts becomes another Justice Taney.

  • Israel Garcia January 27, 2010, 11:04 am

    Having personally fought of the front lines of the now historical “illegal” Texas redistricting debacle of 2002 (think Tom Delay), I am disheartened yet again at another failure of thoroughly educated American leaders to respect the fair playing field that we so passionately defend worldwide — our nation’s election system. I’ve seen first hand as lower-income “barrios” and minority “colonias” get gerrymandered into homogeneous districts here in my own backyard, and the resulting electoral free-for-all that can discourage whole generations of voters.

    Stay on the worldwide front lines Nadine, and continue to apply your own brand of common-sense to this seemingly endless juggernaut of corporate influence that aims to tilt our “ethical” playing field. When they try to unfairly tilt the machine, BE THE TILT MECHANISM!!!

  • Paul Kazmercyk January 29, 2010, 4:56 pm

    Nadine: I disagree with the Court’s decision in Citizens United. The notion that corporations–entities whose primary goal is to maximize profits and please shareholders–possess the same rights as me, an individual, is Alice in Wonderland absurd. I’m still trying to understand the “logic” that could have led five Justices to that conclusion.

    The decision goes beyond politics. It simply makes no sense.

    I too read Kirpatrick’s piece in the Times. I found it frustrating. Just as “You can’t prove a negative,…” I don’t think you’re being intellectually honest if you deny the obvious: entities, whether corporate or human give money to candidates and political parties because they agree with ideology and political goals. In this respect, corporations hold an immensely lopsided advantage over individuals, because of their vast resources.

    This goes for lobbyists and donors from both sides of the aisle, but I always try to point my “moral compass” in this direction: what does a contributor have to gain from the transaction?

    In the end, each individual or group hopes for something in return–a better world, favorable tax policy, etc. Call me naive, but In my mind, my neighbor’s contribution made in the name of the greater good fits well into this democracy, but the contribution made in the hopes of ensuring bigger profits, tax breaks or direct influence over policy is simply corrupt. And I don’t see how the Citizens United decision leads to anything but greater, legalized corruption.

  • Ruth Cowan February 2, 2010, 9:25 pm

    The decision speaks to the consequences of whom Presidents nominate to serve as judges.

  • UGG Boots February 11, 2010, 8:05 pm

    I found this article useful in a paper I am writing at university. Hopefully, I get an A+ now!


    Bernice Franklin

    UGG Boots

  • bathtub restoration long island November 17, 2011, 10:48 am

    I personally hold the opinion that money is used as a tool to rig elections. I support Supreme Courts’ decision of regulating the elections and i urge the public to vote honestly for the betterment of the country.


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