I happened to be listening to an older broadcast of Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air today and the subject was the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court....a decision which was essentially ordered by newly appointed Chief Justice John Roberts and raced through the Court. In essence, Citizens United threw out years of existing election campaign finance law and held that corporations had a right to "free speech."
It also held that, depending on the type of structure used to dispense the funds raised, organizations could keep secret the origins of those funds.
But one comment in the podcast caught my attention: Citizens United gave these new powers to business and to unions.
That seemed curious. By most accounts, Citizens United got before the court in the manner it did in large part because of the activism of Chief Justice Roberts.
John Nichols, in an Oct. 25, 2010 article from The Nation , posted on Alternet wrote:
Roberts, an ardent judicial activist, manipulated deliberations in the case of Citizens United v. FEC in order to create an opening for a sweeping 5-4 ruling that effectively eliminated limits on campaign spending by corporations. That decision helped create the current circumstance, where special-interest spending is shouting down the democratic discourse in states across the money.
The evidence of manipulation of the Citizens United case is well established -- under Roberts' leadership, the high court went so far as to demand that lawyers resubmit briefs so that they would raise issues that Roberts wanted to address. And plenty of questions have been raised about the Roberts' ties to political and corporate players that are now taking advantage of the Citizens United ruling.
But why would Roberts, who clearly seems to have pre-meditated the procedures he wanted to use to get the issue before the Court (and as rapidly as possible) want to produce a ruling which also seemed to give these sweeping political funding powers to unions - a sector which conservatives have continuously excoriated for decades?
Indeed after the Citizens United case was decided, numerous right-wing commentators ran articles asserting that unions raised more money than business in support of political issues and causes and specifically cited The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
So why would Roberts want to give more power to a sector which has long been a thorn in the side of the conservative principles he so strongly espouses as Chief Justice and as a long-time member of the conservative Federalist Society?
Because the next step after Citizens United -- giving more freedom to use more money more clandestinely to business and unions -- is to launch a full-scale attack on unions...and especially those in the public sector.
And that is just what you are seeing now. Further, I would argue, that all of these actions....the court ruling and the concerted attacks on labor at a level not seen in modern times, is of a piece.....it is part of a long-term plan developed with the support and I would guess, the active participation of the Koch family.
Why, you might ask, are we suddenly seeing a surge of state legislatures, in tandem, launching coordinated attacks against unions and their members.....demanding they accept further salary and benefit cuts, calling them parasites and greedy, claiming their benefits and salaries vastly exceed those in the private sector, and worst of all, demanding that they agree to abandon their right to collective bargaining?
Why? Because unions have for the most part, been the single most powerful counterweight to the vast and growing amounts of money being channeled from global sources through shadowy third-party groups in support of conservative political causes, politicians and interest groups.
We are incredibly naive if we believe this is all happening spontaneously. It has been clear for some time now that the Koch empire is investing millions in support of conservative causes, but what seems almost certain is that these investments are not being made without a specific, careful and well coordinated plan in mind. And the tendrils of influence and control involved may well reach much farther than we realize.
It has been clear, for example, that the GOP has a long-term goal of packing the U.S. courts at all levels with conservative-minded judges. It is reflected in the Federalist Society, which encourages membership by like minded lawyers and jurists and grooms candidates for appointments in coordination with the GOP and other conservative groups. Justice Roberts himself is seen as perhaps the prime example of the success of this effort.
In years when the GOP has majority control of Congress, it jams through as many appointments at all levels as it can. In years when it is out of power, it uses the secret hold, cloture and filbuster to block appointments to vacant seats , in effect "holding them" until such time as they can decide who gets the appointments. The crisis in the Obama administration right now is so bad that even Republicans are complaining that the vacancies are resulting in a court system unable to provide justice in a timely manner because of a shortage of jurists.
Numerous flags have been raised recently about the propriety of actions by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas directly involving themselves in meetings and conferences relating to issues coming before the court.
Steve Benen in a Political Animal post carried on Alternet Feb. 15th notes:
Discrepancies in reports about an appearance by Justice Clarence Thomas at a political retreat for wealthy conservatives three years ago have prompted new questions to the Supreme Court from a group that advocates changing campaign finance laws.
When questions were first raised about the retreat last month, a court spokeswoman said Justice Thomas had made a "brief drop-by" at the event in Palm Springs, Calif., in January 2008 and had given a talk.
In his financial disclosure report for that year, however, Justice Thomas reported that the Federalist Society, a prominent conservative legal group, had reimbursed him an undisclosed amount for four days of "transportation, meals and accommodations" over the weekend of the retreat.
The event in question was organized by the right-wing Koch Brothers.
To be sure, whether Thomas "dropped by" or stayed for four days may seem pretty thin as scandals go, but the fact that he's offered competing versions of events about this retreat matter. Indeed, in this case, Thomas attended an event where powerful conservatives discussed strategies for overturning campaign finance laws. This was soon followed by Thomas participating in a case related to campaign finance laws, and concluded with Thomas ruling to overturn campaign finance laws, giving the Koch Brothers considerably more political power.
If Thomas, as a guest at the retreat, was part of these strategy talks, then maybe he should have recused himself from the case?
(Of equal interest of late has been Thomas' multi-year failure to note that his wife was earning over $100,000 annually from a right wing think tank promoting issues sure to come before the Court.)
The attack today on unions, particularly those in the public sector is concerted, and I believe has been throughly planned. The multiple and near simultaneous filings of similar legislation by the GOP in states where they hold control, the similar language and talking points all point to a coordinated effort to weaken the union movement so severely that the powers granted by Citizens United to business and to unions, will be reduced almost completely to business.
Doing so will have multiple additional benefits for the conservative cause, for the Kochs and their allies as well:
It will reduce union memberships, and by cutting wages and benefits, reduce the amount members can contribute in dues and fees to support the union, its activities and causes.
It will sharply reduce a major source of funding for progressive candidates and causes.
It will sharply reduce the manpower labor makes available during elections to encourage registrations and get-out-the-vote efforts.
And it will make it easier for business to press all workers for lower wages and benefits, adding to their bottom line.
The conservatives clearly targeted ACORN because of its long-standing involvement in voter registration drives among minorities, which tended to favor Democratic registrations and turnout. They did so with lies and distortion (a tactic they are continuing in such incidents as the Shirley Sherrod attack and the Planned Parenthood attack.) How they achieved their success didn't matter. The end result with ACORN is that they brought the organization down.
Now the target is clearly organized labor. And they are again using lies and distortions and the chaos of economic calamity caused by their own failed policies to try and win the next battle by ramming through bills to remove collective bargaining rights with little debate, and on the basis of bogus claims of fiscal crisis.
Citizens United and the attack on unions are part of a larger plan. It is no stretch of the imagination to believe that that plan and the resources used to develop it have been and are funded in no small part by the Kochs and their allies, working in close coordination with a Republican party which now functions as their tool -- Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Cantor and the party itself:
RANCHO MIRAGE, CA - A phalanx of sheriff’s deputies with riot gear fended off protestors and blocked all access to one of southern California’s most luxurious resort hotels on Sunday as more than 200 conservative donors gathered inside to plot political strategy and raise an estimated $30 million for the 2012 election.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was among several members of Congress who flew in for the two-day event, a semi-annual meeting of political high-rollers sponsored by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire owners of Koch Industries, the giant, privately held oil firm based in Wichita, Kan. The Koch brothers, strong economic libertarians, have become two of the country’s biggest donors to conservative political groups and think tanks.
The long-term planning to achieve full control of a government allied to their own interests continues. The attack on unions is just the latest step in that plan.