Corruption, and Your Part in the Democracy Charade

Dear Virtual Editor,

jacket - Corruption in America.tifLet me begin with  an enthusiastic recommendation for a remarkable book by a remarkable author: Corruption in America  From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United  by Zephyr Teachout. The author, a law professor at Fordham University, is not a gentle breeze.  With very little money, she put a real scare into incumbent governor Andrew Cuomo in the NY Democratic primary. Teachout is frighteningly bright. When my dream ticket of Elizabeth Warren and Samantha Power is elected one day, she should be named Attorney General.  The book is quite readable and the subject is one that should concern us all.  I don’t know Teachout and have no stock in the publishing company, but here is why you should read the book.

Teachout, ZephyrIn the 27 September ’13 post, a basic analysis of the ills of US and Canadian democracy,  you will see an account of a conversation with a friend and colleague who asked me which system of government, US or Canadian, was the better of the two. I replied that the US system is superior but, unfortunately, it is corrupt.  Before reading Corruption in America, I knew what was wrong, but there was so much I did not know of how it all came about.

Teachout demonstrates that serious concerns about the effect of corruption on democracy were paramount in the minds of the nation’s founders. Many prophylactic measures are found in the US Constitution and as well in early laws dealing with bribery, lobbying, and campaign financing. Such measures were designed to discourage ahead of time activities that undermine equality, maximum citizen participation, and the public good. When it was necessary to prosecute after the fact, the definition of the term “corrupt” was left to juries—sort of like the “prevailing community standards” test for obscenity. The law could not provide a comprehensive definition of corruption, but jurors were expected to know it when they saw it in particular cases.

The current US Supreme Court, however, —the one with the right wing activist judges who apparently care not about the original intent of the founders after all—neither knows it nor sees it. In a series of cases, beginning in the late 1970’s and culminating in Citizens United vs. FEC, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), the Court decided that there is but one kind of corruption. Even as to this kind, preventive measures are forbidden.  It must be punished after the fact, and the evidence required to prove it would have to look more or less like this:

Prosecution Exhibit #1: Offer to Buy Influence/Vote   

The undersigned PAC/Lobbyist/Corporation hereby offers to pay Congressperson/Senator/Legislator the sum of _______   provided Congressperson/Senator/Legislator uses her influence and best efforts to support/oppose Bill # ____, notwithstanding any personal reservations s/he might have, and notwithstanding his/her belief that the requested support/opposition is not in the public interest.

Signed and Sworn this day under penalty of perjury, etc.: PAC/Lobbyist/Corporation

Prosecution Exhibit #2: Acceptance of Offer to Buy Influence/Vote    The undersigned Congressperson/Senator/Legislator hereby accepts the above referenced Offer to Buy Influence/Vote and acknowledges that acceptance is motivated solely by his/her desire for personal financial gain and not for any other purpose.

Signed and Sworn this day under penalty of perjury, etc.: Congressperson/Senator/Legislator

Such evidence would probably be sufficient to convict.  Evidence of any less specific transactions, or any preventive measures, including limits on campaign contributions by artificial persons are deemed to violate the free speech rights of the Koch Brothers.

Teachout explains all this much better than I.  Buy the book.


What to Do?  

Throw in the gerrymandering I explained in the earlier post, as well as increasingly blatant Republican voter suppression laws and you have a picture of the charade that is democracy in the US. Can anything be done in the short term?  Frankly, maybe not.  But here are two suggestions:

1.  Fight your way through the voter suppression obstacles and vote next month for every Democratic candidate for every federal, state, and local office, including school boards. Urge your friends to do likewise.  There may well come a time when you should vote for a Republican. I myself have done so.  This is not such a time. This is not a story with two equal sides.  Forget CNN.  Primary responsibility for the current damage to democracy lies with Republicans.

2.  To further a sense of compassion and community, to help one another, get together with like-minded people and figure out ways to ignore or work around governments.  There is much good that community organizations can do on their own, even if it is not fair for them to have to do it.  Consider ignoring unjust and unenforceable laws. Just as conservatives are wrong when they see an all-powerful government coming after their guns and bibles, some progressives think they are powerless if their people are not in office. The power of government over our lives is significant, but it is also considerably exaggerated.

For now, that’s all I’ve got.  Now back to what can be done about that damned Stephen Harper in 2015!

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