On Friday night, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Montana Supreme Court's December, 2011 decision upholding the state's century-old ban on corporate political spending. The implications of this are huge, as it paves the way for a potential re-opening of the disastrous Citizens United decision that has spawned billionaire-sponsored super PACs. And if that happens, Chief Justice John Roberts better buckle up for a grassroots mobilization unlike any the court has seen in years.
Friday's decision was in response to a request by the American Tradition Partnership (ATP) to reverse the Montana ruling. ATP -- a conservative group that says it fights "the radical environmentalist agenda" -- has six weeks to formally ask the Supreme Court to review the case. If they don't, the Montana ban on corporate spending will stand. If they do, we'll likely see Citizens United revisited by the nine justices.
Since the Citizens United ruling over two years ago, millions of dollars have flowed from the super-rich and corporations to elect or defeat candidates. A handful of billionaires have manipulated election outcomes in a matter of days, buying vicious ads through super PACs that candidates pretend are independent from their own campaigns -- while their former colleagues and pals run those PACs. As Ari Berman reported in The Huffington Post, some 196 individual donors have provided nearly 80 percent of the money raised by super PACs in 2011 by giving $100,000 or more each. Secret donors using 501C4's have purchased 40 percent of total GOP primary ads with no disclosure of who is signing the checks.
The Supreme Court justified Citizens United by ruling that super PACs do not allow corruption or the appearance of corruption. Webster's dictionary defines corruption: "Impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle, inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (as bribery); a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct."
If our current campaign finance system isn't corrupt, what is? A handful of billionaires can decide who the next president will be. If our Supreme Court doesn't find that corrupt, or at least creating the appearance of corruption, then they are using a very different dictionary than the rest of America; one shape-shifted solely to consolidate power into the hands of the super-rich, the rest of us be damned.
From Occupy on the left to the Tea Party on the right, conservatives and liberals agree that crony capitalism is out of control, and is central to our nations myriad problems: banking, energy, jobs, health care... you name it. The people are mad as hell, and they're not going to take it any more.
And if the court takes up Citizens United again, you can be sure the American people won't sit quietly with their hands folded while the high court deliberates. They're going to shake the bars of the prison that our democracy has become, and demand a ruling that protects ordinary people, not plutocrats.