Critics of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC predicted that democracy would be sold to the highest bidder. And they were right.
The high court ruling essentially elevated corporations to the status of people, complete with free speech protections, paving the way for an unlimited influx of corporate money in elections.
Almost immediately, Americans witnessed the consequences of the ruling: Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corp., contributed $1 million each to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Republican Governors Association in order to influence the 2010 elections. Koch Industries donated $1 million to California's Prop 23, which would kill that state's 2006 climate change legislation. Koch -- a prominent financier of the Tea Party movement -- will host a "secretive network of Republican donors" in Palm Springs this coming January, featuring a speech by Fox News personality Glenn Beck. According to Charles Koch, the purpose of the gathering is to "review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it." Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia have attended Koch-organized events.
But perhaps the most insidious outcome of Citizens United is the corporate funding of Jim Crow-style voter suppression campaigns -- conspicuously orchestrated efforts by Republicans and Tea Party groups to intimidate voters of color and keep them away from the polls.
In the third quarter of 2010, the Republican National Lawyers Association enjoyed an influx of cash right before the midterm elections. The group -- which stirs the pot of racial discord with its unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in communities of color -- received $150,000 from Amway founder and Orlando Magic co-owner Richard DeVos, and $50,000 from Paul E. Singer, a close friend of Rudy Giuliani. And the group -- which targeted the community group ACORN and used the New Black Panthers as a fundraising tool -- is operating seminars in Illinois in the weeks right before the midterm election. GOP Senate candidate Mark Kirk, who is working with NLRA and an anti-Obama birther, announced his plans to send "voter integrity" teams to Chicago's predominantly black neighborhoods. Kirk has his eyes on four black precincts that he claimed "might be tempted to jigger the number somewhat."
In Wisconsin, the Republican Party and Americans For Prosperity, a Koch-funded Tea Party front group, are engaged in a "voter caging" plot against fraudulent mailer to minority and student voters in Democratic areas of the state. A fraudulent AFP mailer would tell the voters to call to confirm their registration information, or risk being removed from the voter rolls. Meanwhile an unnamed private family foundation has paid for 25 billboards in Milwaukee and southeast Wisconsin which reads "Voter Fraud is a Felony, 3YRS & $10,000 Fine."
The King Street Patriots, a Tea Party group in Harris County, Texas, has launched an aggressive and well-funded anti-voter fraud campaign called "True the Vote." The group refers to a minority registration drive in Houston as the New Black Panther Party. Tea Party poll watchers are accused of employing forbidden intimidation tactics during early voting in that state's largest county, such as following and talking to voters, disrupting lines and "getting into election workers' faces." The U.S. Department of Justice is watching these events closely.
And in Nevada, the Spanish-language network Univision almost aired an ad from the Virginia-based group Latinos for Reform, a GOP-affiliated group, urging Latinos to stay away from the polls.
Voter fraud is a cause célèbre of the Republican Tea Party crowd, although the allegations of such conduct are unfounded. And while fraud is rarely found, that is beside the point. Rather, the specter of widespread voter shenanigans in black and Latino precincts is a subterfuge. Whenever conservatives cry voter fraud, it is guaranteed that intimidation of voters of color is waiting around the corner. And that is the whole point.
These crass tactics on the part of right-wing groups, blatant in their racism, remind us of the methods used by segregationists in the Jim Crow South to block the black vote. Further, these "shut down the vote" campaigns harken back to Operation Eagle Eye, when a young attorney named William Rehnquist led a team of Republicans who disenfranchised black and Latino overs in Phoenix.
History now repeats itself, but with a twist: Today, corporations and shadowy groups can funnel unlimited resources into these voter suppression campaigns, all with the blessings of the Roberts Supreme Court.
As Justice Stevens eloquently stated in his Citizens United dissent, "The financial resources, legal structure, and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process. Our lawmakers have a compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races."
How will Donald Trump’s first 100 days impact YOU? Subscribe, choose the community that you most identify with or want to learn more about and we’ll send you the news that matters most once a week throughout Trump’s first 100 days in office. Learn more