Thu, Jul

The Corrupt Supreme Court Could Make Political Bribery Even Easier


GUEST WORDS - A democracy is run by and for the benefit of the demos, the people. An oligarchy is run by and for the oligoi, the “few,” aka the morbidly rich.

Thanks to a corrupt bloc of Republicans who’ve controlled the U.S. Supreme Court since the Nixon era, America is more than halfway through the transition from democracy to oligarchy.

But it’s not too late for We, The People to reclaim our government from the forces of neofascism and great wealth who’ve worked so hard since the Reagan Revolution to seize complete control of it.

Virtually all of America’s current crises track back to corrupt GOP appointees on the Supreme Court rewriting or outright cancelling over a century’s worth of good-government anti-corruption laws.

It’s going to require a two-step process: End the ability of the morbidly rich and giant corporations to legally bribe judges and politicians, and then use that reclaimed political power to require the rich to pay their fair share of taxes.

It sounds like a heavy lift, but it’s been done several times before in American history, most recently between 1932 and the Reagan Revolution 1980s, and each time produced a period of extraordinary prosperity for working class people while still helping the rich get rich as well.

Today, however, millions of Americans are working two or more jobs just to pay the rent, more than half of us (56%) can’t deal with a $1,000 emergency expense like a car breakdown or broken tooth, and the top 1% of Americans own more wealth than what’s left of the entire middle class.

The three wealthiest families in this country own more wealth than the bottom half of the American people, and, since the days of the Reagan Revolution, the top 1% has gained $21 trillion in wealth while the bottom 50% of us have lost$900 billion in wealth.

And now comes the headline that America’s 614 billionaires, according to Forbes, have almost doubled their wealth (an 88% increase) just in the 3+ years since the pandemic started in 2020.

Almost all of this transformation of the American economy—and the gutting of the middle class—are the result of five corrupt Republicans on the Supreme Court ruling, in 1976, 1978, and 2010 that when rich people or corporations shower judges and politicians with money and other gifts in exchange for rulings and legislation (particularly tax breaks!), that’s not bribery but, instead, merely an exercise of “free speech.”

After five corrupt Republicans on the court legalized bribery in 1978, the Reagan administration (1981-1989) embraced it with gusto, trading what would eventually become tens of trillions of dollars in tax cuts in exchange for a few hundred million in campaign contributions and a few billion for the financing of a national network of think tanks, radio stations, publications, and right-wing television.

Several billionaires reached out to buy off Clarence Thomas, who was the 2010 deciding vote in the most egregious of these decisions, Citizens United. Open Secrets has documented over $2.8 billion in dark money spending and contributions reported to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) just in the years since then.

And two recent Supreme Court cases have allowed massive loopholes to FEC reporting so additional hundreds of millions to billions—nobody knows the amount because it’s unreported—are today pouring into political campaigns, third-party advertising, influence campaigns, social media, and coffers.

It’s a safe bet that not one penny of those dark money billions came from average people like you and me.

This growing reality of oligarchy is why so many Americans are frustrated and angry: It’s a primary reason why our political system is in turmoil. It’s the reality that oligarch Donald Trump has exploited, convincing working class people he cares about them, even as he gave his own billionaire class the largest tax cut in American history.

The vast majority of voters want:

  • Good public schools,
  • Inexpensive and comprehensive healthcare coverage
  • Debt-free college,
  • Clean air and water,
  • Quality infrastructure,
  • Reasonably priced housing,
  • Action on climate change,
  • Easy access to a union,
  • Adequate Social Security and Medicare for retirement,
  • And real competition in the marketplace that brings back the small family- and locally-owned businesses that have been wiped out in the 41 years since Reagan stopped enforcing our nation’s anti-trust laws in 1983.

Year after year we vote for these things, and year after year we get the opposite, almost entirely because of Republican politicians taking huge bribes from corporations and the morbidly rich to block any legislation that might raise their taxes to benefit the poor or even average working people.

(There is a handful of sellout “Problem Solver” Democrats, too, but they’re the minority: You’ll not find a single Republican in either the House or Senate who’s not currently on the take in a big way. Just check out Open Secrets.)

And now it appears that the six corrupt Republicans currently on the Supreme Court are preparing to make political bribery even easier for their well-heeled patrons.

In the case of Snyder v United States, which the Supreme Court will hear on April 15, James E. Snyder is claiming that when a public official accepts a “gift” from a person or corporation who has benefited from that public official’s actions, that should not be legally considered a bribe. Think of it instead as a “tip,” like you’d leave for good service in a restaurant.

Snyder is the former mayor of Portage, Indiana, who, federal prosecutors successfully argued in court, rigged a city bidding process for $1.125 million worth of new dump trucks to help out a friend who sold such trucks. After the contract was awarded to his buddy, his friend’s company gave a “tip” to Snyder of $13,000.

Snyder is appealing his bribery conviction before the Supreme Court next month, and his main argument is that the federal definition of bribery must include an explicit advance agreement, a spoken or written quid pro quo, to exchange money or gifts for official actions. And that all this explicit agreement stuff must happen before the official acts are taken.

If five or all of the six Republicans on the court agree with Snyder, it will end almost all federal bribery prosecutions of corrupt elected officials and we’ll see an explosion of politicians anxious to fall all over themselves to “earn a tip” after they bow to their “friends” wishes. (Katya Schwenk has written a great summary of the case and its implications for The Lever.)

It’s frankly shocking that four members of the court have already agreed to grant cert and hear the case, displaying a mind-boggling level of tolerance for political corruption.

If the Court rules as expected, will this be the straw that finally breaks the proverbial camel’s back? Will if feed the growing groundswell of disgust directed at Republicans on the Supreme Court and in Congress enough that people take action?

So far, the case has been virtually invisible in the media. But in four weeks it should be getting some attention and may well stir national outrage.

Democrats need to be ready.

The naked corruption of Republicans on the Supreme Court has only been matched since the 1980s by the naked corruption of Republican (and a handful of Democratic) politicians enabled by the court’s Citizens United decision and its predecessors. As former President Jimmy Carter told the world on my radio/TV program eight years ago:

It [Citizens United] violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president… So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over.

And that was before Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stole two Democratic seats on the court and packed it with sold-out right-wing cranks. Virtually all of America’s current crises track back to corrupt GOP appointees on the Supreme Court rewriting or outright cancelling over a century’s worth of good-government anti-corruption laws.

They’ve been at it continuously ever since former President Richard Nixon put Lewis Powell on the Court in 1972.

While not as sexy as the border or book bans, Democrats must make the corruption of Republicans on the Supreme Court a major issue in this year’s election.

Until recently, it’s been mostly a lonely crusade by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the House.

You can call your member of Congress and your two senators at 202-224-3121 if you’d like to let them know that they can do many things about corruption on the court, and encourage them to elevate this to a major campaign issue this fall.

(Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and the author of "The Hidden History of Monopolies: How Big Business Destroyed the American Dream" (2020); "The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America" (2019); and more than 25 other books in print. This article was first featured in CommonDreams.org.)