Who would have thought, forty years after the greatest political scandal and presidential abuse of power in U.S. history, that the Supreme Court of the United States would rule that the practices that fueled and financed that scandal were now legal?
Yet that is essentially the effect of the Citizens United decision. Go ahead and take bets on how much time will pass before the tsunami of cash unleashed by Citizens United ends up in the pockets of a Watergate-like cast of break-in burglars, wiretap experts, surveillance magicians, and cyberpunks. Given the power and money at stake in the nation's presidential and congressional elections, it is inevitable that candidates or their operatives will tap into the hundreds of millions of dollars flowing through their campaigns and try to game the system -- in perfectly legal or highly illegal ways.
And, of course, the ultimate victims of the corruption of the democratic process are not defeated candidates and parties but America's citizens. Perhaps Supreme Court justices should have to experience a corrupted election process firsthand to understand what it means to live with a hollowed-out democracy. As one who experienced Watergate in its multi-tentacled form, it isn't pleasant to discover that you've been placed under surveillance, had your taxes audited, and been subjected to other dirty tricks. All this happened to me, among a number of others, simply because we worked for an honest presidential candidate who dared to challenge the authority and power of a president who had long-since forgotten the integrity the democratic process requires.
Coupled with the concentration of lobbying power now consolidating in the offices of a small hand-full of mega-firms (see the blog: "Convergence in the Garden of Government Influence"), the advent of legalized corruption launched by the Supreme Court through Citizens United empowers the super-rich to fund their own presidential and congressional campaigns as pet projects and to foster pet policies. The calculus here is simple: Because you have several hundred million dollars, or even a billion, you can lease or purchase a candidate from an endless reserve of minor politicians and then make him or her a star. In short order, all of that money and marketing power makes your candidate a mouthpiece for any cause or purpose you and your money handlers value, no matter how questionable. Your candidate-for-hire also will mouth your script in endless political debates and through as many television spots as you are willing to pay for -- all of which Citizens United makes quite legal now.
The five prevailing Supreme Court justices might at least have required the bought-and-paid-for candidates to wear sponsor labels on their suits like stock car drivers. For the time being, though, Exxon-Mobil or the Stardust Casino can't openly sponsor candidates, and instead rely on phony "Committee for Good Government" smokescreen entities.
So, America: Welcome to the Age of Vanity Politics and Campaigns-For-Hire. If this Court had been sitting in 1974, when the Watergate scandal was in full blossom, it would not have voted 9-0 to require the president to turn over legally incriminating tapes but instead would have voted to support the use of illegal campaign contributions to finance criminal cover-ups as an exercise in "free speech."
For many decades our citizens has had to survive free-wheeling antics by politicians and parties. Now American have to survive their own Supreme Court.
This post appears in the June 24, 2012 issue of Huffington.