Saturday, February 18, 2012

El Degüello - Citizens United or We The People

Originally posted on January 15, 2012. Updated on February 18, 2012.

Remember the $540,000 of nasty political ads expended by "Super PACs" in City Council elections last year? The Committee For Oklahoma City Momentum spent about $415,000 and Voice For Responsible Government spent $125,000.

Introduction   The Comedic Side   The Serious Side
Corporate Greed 1870s-19teens   Oklahoma City
Mays Camp   Oklahoma Legal Stuff

Introduction. That outrageous blot on Oklahoma City democracy was made possible by the United States Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission which was decided on January 21, 2010. In that 5-4 decision, the majority held that corporations are "people" and are therefore entitled to the 1st Amendment protection of free speech, and the upshot has been that corporations can make unlimited contributions into Super PACs without ever once saying who they are.

Some might call Super PACs "educational" but I'll call them big big money trying to buy our votes. I call them a threat to democracy.

Various movements have sprung up around the country to attempt to undo the Citizens United decision, one being, it advocating an amendment to the federal Constitution which, at its core, would declare that corporations are NOT people and effectively overturn the Citizens United decision.

Taking a cue from "Occupy Wall Street," "Occupy The Courts" rallies are planned around the country this Friday, January 20, 2012. In Oklahoma City, the rally is spearheaded by these ladies, Susan McCann (left) and Rena Guay (right), and I'll get back to writing about their activities shortly.

The Oklahoma City rally will be in front of the Federal Courthouse, 200 NW 4th, between 12 noon until 1 pm.

I'll have more to say about the Citizens United decision and rallies around the country shortly.

The Silly/Funny Background. However, before I get serious, it is an indeed ironic coincidence (?) that yesterday, January 15, the Super Pac Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow launched a juicilloushly (if that's not a word, it should be) sarcastic ad in the South Carolina Republican primary — the Super PAC was formed by Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert and is also known as "The Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC" — Colbert transferred control of the PAC to Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" last week so he could form an exploratory committee to consider a run for "President of the United States of South Carolina." Since that initial TV ad, Comedy Central has done more, and I'll show a pair of their videos here.

This 1st video is simply too good not to watch ... over and over again! The narration is by John Lithgow ...

The above was followed by the January 17 production, "Colbert Super PAC - Not Coordinating with Stephen Colbert," on Jon Stewart's Daily Show:

This ongoing political satire at Comedy Central has captured the nation's print, television, and internet media fancy. Here are excerpts from an opinion piece by Linda P. Campbell on January 19 in the Ft. Worth Star Telegram:

Commentary: Will Colbert Nation make its point about super PACs in S.C. primary?

        What's more likely to call attention to the outrage that is the super PAC: a bunch of Occupiers showing up at federal courthouses Friday — or Colbert Nation upending Saturday's South Carolina Republican primary by voting for Herman Cain?
        Two years ago Saturday, the U.S. Supreme Court unleashed super PAC funding on American voters by ruling that key restrictions on campaign spending amounted to censorship of corporations and labor unions that wanted to pour big money into electing candidates. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the court said corporations, which are created strictly by the laws that shield them, have the same free speech rights as people, who are created by a power greater than the state.
* * *
        Colbert has made a running parody of the absurd depths to which campaign funding has fallen. It's brilliant, skewering satire. His super PAC, funded by viewer donations, started as Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow and ran an ad in which low-profile GOP candidate Buddy Roemer got around the "coordination" rule by saying it was an issue ad he wished he weren't in.
        Because Colbert wanted to run in the Republican presidential primary of his home state of South Carolina, he handed his super PAC to fellow late-night comic Jon Stewart and renamed it The Definitely Not Coordinating with Stephen Colbert Super PAC -- all under the grinning eye of his lawyer, Trevor Potter, a former FEC chairman who advised George H.W. Bush and John McCain.
        Colbert couldn't get on the ballot, but former candidate Herman Cain is still listed. So Colbert has been mischievously pumping his viewers who are registered South Carolina voters to support him by marking their ballots for Cain. It's a deliciously devious scheme with the potential to mobilize real political action.
        A group called Move to Amend is protesting Citizens United in a more conventional way, organizing an Occupy the Courts day for Friday and promoting the idea of a constitutional amendment declaring that corporations and labor unions don't have the same rights as human beings.
        It seems like a sincere exercise of the time-honored right to free assembly, with events planned for federal courthouses in more than 130 cities, from Dallas and San Antonio to Missoula, Mont., Central Islip, N.Y., and Dothan, Ala.
        But forgive me for doubting they'll rock the system. For goodness' sake, their New York City march is planned for the height of rush hour, with an evening rally after the courthouse has closed for the day.
        I'm expecting more impact from Colbert's subversives.

The Serious Background. Both before and after the Citizens United decision, a number of items are present to consider. "Who is a person?" "When does a person come to exist?" "How — does it matter how a person was conceived — in other words, can a person be conceived in one or more ways than the ordinary human reproductive means to do so?"

Early National Background. Although not mentioned in the United States Constitution, corporations have been around since before the American Revolution, they picking up steam in England during the Industrial Revolution. In the States, the so-called Second Industrial Revolution gained momentum with the steam engine and transcontinental railroads, among many other good things, and the corporations served such interests. But, at the time, and to use a term that would probably be called "collateral damage" today, many were harmed by the virtually unrestrained corporate capitalism which flourished during the 19th and the early part of the 20th centuries.

Put differently, are the rights of a person different if they are human or if they are a person formed by the law of a state or the United States?" I mean, we are seriously having to look at Star Trek's fictional Borg when considering this topic, aren't we? If you disagree, please explain in a comment.

In our civics and history classes in secondary school we learned about the Standard Oil monopoly and we learned about Boss Tweed and other political corruption which was influenced by unbridled corporate greed during that time — well, to qualify that statement, at age 69 I really have no clue what is taught in secondary schools in Oklahoma or elsewhere these days — heck, I don't really know if American history is even taught in schools any more although I hope that it is a required subject.

Click on the images below for larger views.

Standard Oil Monopoly
Boss Tweed, 1871
The above newspaper editorial cartoons reflect the time of the late 1800s. Not to mention the working conditions of adult laborers which were often life-threatening and horrible at best, many corporations hired child labor in their workforce — which is precisely why child labor laws began to develop in the 20th century. Corporations were the reason that child labor laws came to exist in the first place — such laws did not merely pop into place for no reason.

1900s Coal Miner Children
1912 Child Labor
5 Year Old Hymie Miller
Selling Newspapers in Oklahoma City
5 Year Old Ernest Chester
Selling Newspapers in Oklahoma City
The above pair of images are credited to Larry Johnson, Historic Photos of Oklahoma City (Turner Publishing Co. 2007). In the text, Johnson notes, "In 1917, the National Child Labor Committee investigated conditions of child workers in Oklahoma. Noted Photographer Lewis W. Hine documented the committee's work." The kids were called, "newsies," Johnson says, and in another picture not shown here of a 9 year old child selling papers downtown, the child was quoted as admitting to his truancy saying, "I dunno where the school is."

Oklahoma City. National economic calamity can be another byproduct of unrestrained poorly regulated corporate capitalism. The Wall Street Crash of October 1929 marked the beginning of the 10-year long Great Depression. In Oklahoma City, though, downtown construction continued full-steam into 1930 with the construction of the 1st National Building and Ramsey Tower (City Place today), as well as the YWCA on NW 1st (Park Avenue) and many others, and some opined that Oklahoma would not necessarily be hit by the Wall Street Crash as hard as some places. By 1931-32, it became evident that any such hope was merely wishful thinking.

During the 1930s, Oklahoma City came to have some of the most populated "Hoovervilles" in the nation. Mostly located on the river-bottom of the North Canadian River between Byers and Pennsylvania, but also Mays Camp at the May Avenue bridge crossing of the river, these camps were home to thousands in Oklahoma City. According to William H. Mullins, writing for the Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture,
By the end of 1930 Tulsa and Oklahoma City formed unemployment committees. The economy reached bottom in the winter of 1932-33. Joblessness probably exceeded three hundred thousand, out of an urban population of around eight hundred thousand.
The May Avenue Camp became famous/infamous via photographs taken by Russell Lee, a photographer with the U.S. Farm Security Administration, and just a few of them are shown below.

Click on any image for a larger view.

The April 26, 1938, Oklahoman article below paints a dismal picture of the city:

As to Oklahoma City, he [author Stuart Chase] said, "I went on to Oklahoma City where oil wells spout on the grounds of the state capitol and perhaps the most extensive Hooverville in the nation lies spread along the flood plain of the river — a tarpaper, barrel stave, tincan slum that would disgrace any town in Mexico. Here congregate thousands of Americans who have lost their homes and everything else except possibly a battered Ford. Here they congregate at one of the great crossroads of the nation, wondering where a job can be found, north, south, east, west, striving to exist in a hovel from which a self-respecting dog would run yelping."
By saying the above, I don't mean to say that unbridled and unregulated corporate capitalism was the sole cause of the Great Depression or of Oklahoma's share of it, and I'm not forgetting the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s contributed largely to Oklahoma's woes during the 1930s-early 1940s. And I'm not ignoring that during the same period of time corporations did a lot of good for the economy.

Just the same, it would be difficult to argue that corporations did not contribute largely to the Great Depression itself. It would be even more difficult to argue, I would suppose, that corporations place national or local well-being in as high a priority as they do their own bottom line — profit. That's natural and fair — but the plain fact is that corporate expenditures to political campaigns directly or as Super PACs indirectly are made for the same reason — their own profits. At least, that's my opinion.

I'm probably not too far off base to speculate that laws which existed prior to the Citizens United decision were made for substantial reasons, and that those reasons were something along the lines of what I've discussed above.

Oklahoma Law. Oklahoma is one of many states which either prohibited or restricted corporate funds being spent on political elections. See this article at the National Conference of State Legislatures website. In Oklahoma, corporations are created under the authority of state or federal law which fact is universally true in the United States.

Oklahoma Constitution, Article 9, §40, provides that,
§40. Influencing elections or official duty.

No corporation organized or doing business in this State shall be permitted to influence elections or official duty by contributions of money or anything of value.
That constitutional provision has not been repealed and remains the constitutional law of our state. Even in the present Oklahoma era of what I will call extreme moral conservatism, in which the state Senate just approved a bill which, if enacted into law, would declare human life to begin at conception, corporate "personhood," which could by analogy be seen to be the point of conception of a — incorporation of the corporation — was ignored.

... more to come ...

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Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Men Who Kicked The Hornets Nest

Credit The Who for background audio, "Who Are You," in the video, above, and Swedish author Stieg Larrson for the concept — his Dragon Tatoo trilogy is almost certainly the finest political/crime/suspense literature of this century and the Swedish movie versions of his work are simply extraordinary and follow the books true to form (unlike the recently released US Girl With The Dragon Tatoo which takes more license than the Swedish counterpart). The books, the movies, and the aftermath of the Citizens United vs. F.E.C. United States Supreme Court decision are not for the timid or feint of heart. They are all rock-hard sobering stuff.

If Pete White and Ed Shadid have any dragon tattoos on them, they are probably figurative and not literal, but there can be no doubt that the pair has aggressively pursued their common cause of kicking the Citizens United hornets nest as much as can be done at the municipal level of government. They began kicking it up a notch at the January 17, 2012, city council meeting, and "bully pulpited" municipal campaign disclosure again on January 24 and February 7, our last three council meetings, each of which is fully reported on below.

Background For The Current Discussion. On March 1, 2011, outgoing Ward 2 council member Sam Bowman became the 1st councilman to become vocal about the huge amounts of money being spent anonymously in the spring 2011 City Council elections. He said,
And then, in these last few weeks, big money has gotten involved to the extent, my opinion, it has just made a mockery of our city elections. * * * The people, I think, need to know who's behind the money...
His Ward 2 successor, Ed Shadid, railed about the Super PAC expenditures of in excess of $500,000 during the Oklahoma City Council elections, Oklahoma City having been one of, if not the, first battlegrounds which came face to face the practical consequences and reality of the Citizens United decision by the United States Supreme Court in 2010. It is recalled that the anonymous Super PAC Committee For Oklahoma City Momentum called labeled him "Too Extreme For Oklahoma City," among one if its kinder observations about Ed Shadid the candidate.

After his election, it is a fair and safe thing to say that several existing council members were discourteous of, if not downright disrespectful to, councilman Shadid during the first months following his taking office. See this post here, for example.

But at least some measure of thawing and cooler heads became evident in the November 15, 2011, council meeting when Shadid's resolution to prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation of city employees was adopted by a 7-2 vote with only Skip Kelly and Larry McAtee voting no.

... more coming shortly ...

Recent Comments In City Council. During each of the last three meetings of City Council the topic of doing something about the Citizens United decision was brought to the floor in the "Comments By Members of Council" section of the council's agenda. That discussion is shown in its entirety and is briefly commented upon, as follows.

January 17, 2012, City Council Excerpts
January 17 - Part A
January 17 - Part B
Part A Notes. Ed Shadid noted that during the previous week by a 3-2 vote the State Ethics Commission declined decided not to make recommendations to the Legislature for revisions to the Political Subdivision Ethics Act despite the general recognition that the ethics commission doesn't have the manpower, will, or even the jurisdiction to oversee municipal elections. Shadid described Pete White's comments to the commission as "chilling and powerful" and he noted that in the spring 2010 elections that 12 entities did even not file campaign finance reports with the City Clerk. He said, "Democracy is slipping away." "I would hope that we as group can maybe vet this and try and work toward other solutions," he said, opining that the city needs to "do something." He characterized the political consultants who attended the commission meeting as "very cynical" and "licking their chops" concerning the 2013 city council elections for Wards 1, 3, 4, and 7 in a circumstance in which no ethics commission overlooks city elections and there is no enforcement. Pete White said that the system before Citizens United worked well and that the Citizens United decision does allow for disclosure and sanctions if state and/or local organizations implement the same. "I don't think that we can afford to not have a system that requires people to report money that's contributed to campaigns," he said and added, "We should know who they are." He further opined that cities have the ability to act independently of the Legislature and cited the City of Norman's establishment of a city election commission as evidence.Part B Notes. David Greenwell said that his impression was that the commission merely wanted to wait until the Legislature acted. White responded that the commission missed the opportunity to be a "bully pulpit" and, as to the commission revisiting the matter in February, he said, "Well, I'm certainly not holding my breath." White noted that two election cycles will likely occur before any state legislation might be implemented, the 2013 council elections and the 2014 mayoral election. "We're going to have to do something ourselves," he said. "I want to know who you are. If you're going to say bad things about me, I want to know who you are cause I may want to say bad things about you," he said. He noted that political consultants Pat Hall and Pat McFerran told the commission that disclosure rules may "dampen" election activity. To that, White said, "Well it sure as hell might dampen some of the activity, some of it that might be dampened if they had to tell who their names were," and he added, "What it really dampen is people getting in. Who's going to want to get in," adding, "Nobody's going to want to run against that." He asked the mayor's office to determine "what's out there for us." Mayor Cornett said he thought the matter might be for the city's Legislative Committee to consider. Meg Salyer passingly said that she pretty much agrees with White "across the board," but that she wanted it to be clear that what happened last spring was the result of the US Supreme Court and not the fault of any on the city council. Patrick Ryan's brief comments at the end are somewhat garbled but he sounded generally friendly to what White had said.
January 24, 2012, City Council Excerpts
At this meeting, only Pete White spoke on the topic. It is evident, though, that he and councilman Larry McAtee had previously discussed the matter, McAtee wanting it to be made clear that White's comments did not represent city council position, nor perhaps his own. White obliged and made that clear, but, more, he used the opportunity to forcefully talk about the topic.
February 7, 2012, City Council Excerpts
February 7 - Part A
February 7 - Part B
Part A Notes: Pete White began by saying that it appeared likely that the state is going to make a major step to require disclosure and do something with regard to something with regard to what he said was "a serious ethics problem" and with regard to municipal elections. "I believe they will be willing to give the cities the authority to manage that themselves," he said. "That's kind of good news and bad news. The good news is that we may be able to find a way to manage it ourselves. The bad news is there are many many pitfalls in my opinion in forming our own ethics commission," he said and explained. Patrick Ryan said, "Pete, do we need an ethics commission to require reporting?" and White answered, "Perhaps we don't." He wanted the mayor to appoint a small study group. Municipal Counselor Kenneth Jordan opined that the state has preempted the field and that what Norman did in forming its Election Commission wasn't legal. However, no one seemed to know exactly what Norman has done. Jordan said that he sent council a legal opinion a couple of weeks ago — to my knowledge, that memo has not been made public. Ryan said we need to wait for the state to act. White agreed but said, "We need to be ready to do something as soon as we possibly can." White commented upon the current national Republican primary noting, "They're not running positive ads with this money. And the reason they're not is because they don't have to put their name on it. If you have to be identified as they guy that's throwing the garbage then you're much less likely to do it." Ryan again said that we should to wait for the Legislature. Mayor Mick Cornett said, "Why don't we ask staff to look into what legislation might be introduced, or about to be introduced, that we can put our 2¢ into." White stressed the need to work with our local legislators. Gary Marrs said he wanted a report from (presumably legal) staff as to what we can and cannot do. "We all know what the bottom line is — and that is you want people to put their name down as donor on the PAC that they're doing it," he said. But, he didn't want to spend time trying to do something which would result in time being spent uselessly, he saying, "I don't want to get down to the very end and all of the sudden we're all throwing up our hands saying, 'Why did we go through this whole mess if they're not going to have to report anyway?'"Part B Notes: White agreed. He also noted the District Attorney's suggestion of making remedies civil instead of criminal since proving a civil case carries an easier burden of proof. David Greenwell said that adoption of the federal election rules for state and city elections would satisfy much of the problem. But, he added, "One thing you won't be able to do is that 501C4 organizations do not have to disclose who contributes to them and as long as they don't make independent expenditures their primary activity, keep it below 50% of expenditures, then they fall within the Internal Revenue Service guidelines." White then said that the political consultants at the State Ethics Commission were "self-serving for the most part — about, well, that the reporting requirement would be burdensome — that if you put reporting requirements on people that will cause fewer people to run for office. To me that is so disingenuous it's hard to hold in my head." He said, "All these little barriers are being thrown in the way and not by this group but by others that are trying to find a way to delay disclosure, to avoid disclosure, and Citizens United does not say that you can't have disclosure, it says you can't put caps on money," he apparently disagreeing with Greenwell's above opinion. White continued, "I want their names. I want to know who they are. And, to the extent we can do that, that's what I think we ought to be trying to do because I think you'll stop some of this goofiness if your name has to be on it." Shadid said he thought it was too late to get laws on the books before the next election but said, "I'd like to see all of the candidates who are running for city council to just come right out and say, 'We're not OK with this.'" "If the candidates all in unison lock arms and say, 'This is not OK, it's not tolerable. If you do it we're going to call you out, I think that's possibly the deterrent that we need." Ryan said such an approach was overly simplistic, "it might sound good but it wouldn't work." He did acknowledge the "opportunity for mischief" as might occur were an undisclosed PAC secretly wanting to build a city casino. White countered, saying, "It would work if you did it." Shadid added that the approaches "are not mutually exclusive, you can do both." Larry McAtee closed the discussion by implying that it might be better to have discussion in the council's Legislation Committee instead of during council meetings. He did not explain why.

My intention is to update THIS post with additional city council clips and/or later information when they become available.

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