Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissent in Citizens United challenged the unspoken majority premise that campaign contributions from businesses wouldn’t corrupt the political process. The majority rejected the argument but the evidence continues to mount that the line between campaign contributions and bribes is too fuzzy to be safe.
WC has written before about the Redflex Scandal. Redflex manufactures a line of stoplight cameras, the electronic widgets that photograph your license plate if you blow through a stoplight or stop sign. In at least three cases, Redflex “won” its contracts by bribing public officials. We know about the corruption in Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio, and Chicago, Illinois. In the Columbus and Cincinnati cases, the bribes were campaign contributions.
Redflex funneled money to lobbyist John Raphael by paying him fake invoices for “ consulting services.” Raphael then made personal contributions to the campaigns of elected officials or to the state and local Democratic parties. Raphael paid $70,000 in bribes through “campaign contributions” to elected officials in Columbus and Cincinnati.
Federal prosecutors said Redflex gave out $7,500 in campaign contributions to council campaigns in 2005. It’s unclear who received those contributions. Redflex sent $20,000 through Raphael to Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther’s campaign fund through Raphael and the Ohio Democratic Party. Incredibly, no Columbus city officials were charged. Redflex’s CEO, Karen Finley, and Redflex’s bagman, John Raphael, pulled time on felony convictions. Finley and Raphael were convicted of paying the bribes that Mayor Ginther and his city council weren’t charged with receiving. Because, WC supposes, they were “campaign contributions,” not bribes. Even if they were exactly the functional equivalent of bribes.
This isn’t the first and won’t be the last case where corporate campaign contributions are indistinguishable from bribery. Perhaps the disastrous majority decision, and the wisdom of Justice Steven’s dissent, stem in part from Justice Stevens’ life in Chicago, where he saw and fought the relentless corruption of the City of Chicago and Cook County.1 Justice Stevens understood, better than his fellow supreme court justices, the incredibly corrupting effect of money, and the dangers presented by allowing corporations, entities created for the single purpose of assembling wealth, to participate in the election process. The evidence continues to mount that Chief Justice Roberts and his conservative majority did not, and aren’t willing to admit error.
Incidentally, people forget that Justice Stevens, perceived as a liberal justice (a perception he strongly rejected)2 was nominated for the Supreme Court by a Republican President, Gerald Ford, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate by a vote of 98-0. Impossible to conceive of that happening today.
- WC wrote a paper in law school on the Greenberg Commission. A citizen activist named Sherman Skolnick accused the chief justice and another Illinois Supreme Court justice of accepting bank stock from a politically connected Chicago lawyer in exchange for deciding a case in his favor. The Illinois Supreme Court set up a special commission, the Greenberg Commission, to investigate the allegations. Stevens was appointed the Commission’s general counsel. After a six-week investigation, culminating in Stevens’s devastating courtroom examination of the accused justices, the commission concluded that both men had, in fact, violated canons of judicial ethics, and both resigned. ↩
- Justice Stevens criticized Citizens United as radical judicial action and not a conservative decision at all. ↩