The problem of money in politics could not be more important.

Following is an article by Rob Hager, a constitutional lawyer who helped Montana battle the Supreme Court. Rob is not impressed with the Move to Amend effort and feels that it could be counterproductive in the end. I’ve not changed any of his wording and it is up to the reader to analyze and agree or disagree. Your comments below are welcome. Jack

By Rob Hager

But Move to Amend (MTA), a professional activist organization which raises money in support of a constitutional amendment against money in politics, and also the “corporate personhood” concept it claims is related, is nothing short of consumer fraud. The 14th amendment legal concept of corporate personhood is irrelevant to money in politics. An amendment is impossible in an already corrupted system, and is also unnecessary. Only the most irrational person would believe that in a Congress that cannot pass the most tepid, uselessly piecemeal reform like DISCLOSE or FENA, somehow 2/3 of both houses will propose an effective amendment. And that 38 similarly corrupted state legislatures will ratify. No amendment has been proposed and ratified since 1971.

Staunch reform advocate Senator Fritz Hollings proposed a better drafted constitutional amendment than MTA’s to get money out of politics. Hollings submitted his proposal in seven sessions of Congress from 1989-2001, without even getting close to success in just the Senate. Then Congress was far less corrupted than the current one is by the Supreme Court’s ongoing plutocracy construction project.

The very fact that the MTA amendment — unsupported by any strategic thought or justification why it can succeed where Hollings failed — continues to mislead people is a measure of how far we are from taking even the smallest first step toward engaging, in the words of F.D.Roosevelt, the “war for the survival of democracy” against the “royalists of the economic order.”

FDR advocated no constitutional amendment. Such advocacy is the problem, not the solution. Promoting a futile amendment as the only possibility dampens enthusiasm. It reinforces propaganda from the right that money in politics is inevitable. A plutocratic Court can and does interpret amendments however it likes.

Even with “money-stream media” propagating the Supreme Court’s surreally weak “money is speech” doctrine, still most Americans – by 55%-23% – do not believe that giving money to political candidates is first amendment free speech. That’s 57% of registered voters, 60% of Democrats, and 62% of college grads who refuse to drink the plutocrats’ cool aid that confuses property with democratic liberty. Even larger majorities think there is no violation of free speech in restricting aggregate individual contributions (this year’s Court- targeted campaign finance law), with 73% of the supposedly most conservative Americans, those over 65, agreeing individual plutocrats have no First Amendment right to spend as much as necessary to buy themselves a Congress.

It is disturbing, however, that the youngest voters are the most likely to agree with the Supreme Court, indicating how effective three decades of plutocratic propaganda has been. This underlines the importance of not advocating strategies like MTA’s that cannot succeed anytime in the foreseeable future, and which distract people from effective – i.e. informed and intelligent – strategy for MTA’s political equivalent of breakfast cereal — all ad, no nutrition.

There is an effective strategy to get money out of politics that aims at the source of the problem – 5 plutocratic Supreme Court justices – for people willing to go deeper than deceitful soundbites before deciding where to place their energy.

Because this majority has yet to discover an effective strategy, the more important polling data is that 72% do not think that, for example, limiting individual donations even helps prevent corruption. There is an appropriately wide public cynicism about “solutions” to money in politics generated by decades of misguidance from organizations like MTA that have failed to do any but the most superficial inquiry about how to actually get money out of politics, before soliciting gullible supporters for their soundbite strategies and piecemeal reforms.

More is needed to convince Americans that an anti-corruption strategy will actually work to clean up the system. The first step toward getting money out of politics then, is to ask any organization like MTA, where they get their money. The second step is to do the research on an effective strategy, and stop buying into the empty soundbites like MTA’s just because they are simple, and sound plausible prior to deeper reflection. Then it will be time to stop chomping the Cap’n Crunch and get active in pursuit of an effective strategy.

19 Responses to The problem of money in politics could not be more important.

  1. Keith Roberts says:

    Interesting and depressing. Keith

  2. We’ll say this again: Hager and Leas have to stop. They are outside of the mainstream in the US which supports MTA in large percentages.

    Hagar is focused on CFR, but MTA is taking on corporate dominance of our gov’t.

    Hagar and Leas just have to stop with their half measures.

  3. Raise More Hell says:

    The author can’t have too much familiarity with MTA’s fund raising. MTA passes the hat at David Cobb’s “Barnstorming Tour” speaking engagements. They sell rubber stamps to stamp your money that say things like, “Not to be used to bribe politicians.” Last I heard Michael Bloomberg hadn’t sent in a million dollar check. ben of Ben and Jerry’s fund did fund a Stampmobile to tour the country. It didn’t work out so well.

    Hollings worked in a different time, before Citizens United woke some people up. MTA’s approach is to to work from the outside in. Hollings was trying to work from the inside out. just from last year to this the quality of the introduced resolutions in Congress has improved dramatically. And more people know and care about this issue.

    There is definitely a groundswell on this issue. It’s bigger than anything I’ve seen in a long time. It links to just about every other issue that is attracting large amounts of support. How long did the abolitionists have to agitate to end slavery, the suffragettes to get the vote? Don’t tell me you’re already getting tired, Mr. Hager. ‘Cause the fun is really just getting started.

    I.F. Stone- “The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose, because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins. In order for somebody to win an important major fight 100 years hence, a lot of other people have got to be willing—for the sheer fun and joy of it—to go right ahead and fight, knowing you’re going to lose. You mustn’t feel like a martyr. You’ve got to enjoy it.”

    In this case, i think the enjoyment will be easier than Stone fears. We’re going to win.

    • RMH, the author doesn’t have much familiarity with MTA: period. I do not see where he bothered to speak to one member of MTA, and there are more ignorant assertions in his hit piece than one hears in an hour of Glenn Beck’s show on Blaze TV.

  4. Thanks guys, but there surely must be some way of saying this all with fewer words (1700 in the attachment). For the record I think Hager is correct when he says that we have three “co-equal” branches of government and SCOTUS is NOT “supreme” over the other two. Though not being a lawyer I don”t know how they’d figure it out in a brawl.

    But I do disagree with Hager or anyone else that believes the MTA efforts are for naught. I think MTA has gone a long way toward pissing off the voters, and for that reason alone I’d support its efforts.

  5. Keith Burgoyne says:

    While I welcome any constructive criticism Mr. Hager may wish to present regarding MTA, unfortunately Mr. Hager’s language goes beyond criticism and into the realm of unconstructive attack. Language such as “gullible supporters” and “stop chomping the Cap’n Crunch” has no place in an honest debate. His language takes on the same form that serves the two main political parties so well in alienating an increasingly growing block of the American electorate.

    I believe Mr. Hager may simply misunderstand MTA as a result of his evaluating the organization from the outside. His “external views” of the organization then may be further skewed by using dark political skepticism lenses, which our modern political system unfortunately causes too many of us to wear for too many hours. Indeed Mr. Hager’s “where they get their money” comment signals Mr. Hager’s lack of inside knowledge, and that particular choice of question reinforces the suggestion Mr. Hager views MTA through those dark political skepticism lenses.

    MTA is a grassroots volunteer organization with limited grassroots funding. Its current goal relies upon grassroots volunteer affiliates to educate the voting public in their geographical areas, and to pursue local (town, city, county) resolutions declaring support for an amendment. The local resolutions serve primarily as a tool to help educate a broader swath of the electorate, as well as to help build a winning momentum.

    While I applaud the altruistic “leaderless movement” approach put forth by Mr. Hager in his “effective strategy” reference, it is not clear any truly “leaderless movement” has been organized enough to rally sufficient support to accomplish anything concrete. In fact Mr. Hager’s “leaderless movement” description goes on to hint at relying upon “leaders”. It appears “effective strategies” outlines a “leaderless movement” that simply has not yet settled on its “leaders”.

    Ultimately I am disappointed in Mr. Hager’s “mutually exclusive” argument which seems focused on attempting to carve out his own turf to be viciously defended. This “mutually exclusive” attitude underlies much of what ails the American political system and alienates the electorate. We cannot effectively deal with the challenges of our world using an “it’s either black or white” mentality. Our continuously variable shades of gray world mocks our attempts at such simplistic thinking.

    Mr. Hager’s attempts to present MTA and his “effective strategies” as mutually exclusive pursues a fallacious path. If Mr. Hager believes strongly in his “effective strategies” path, I encourage him to pursue his passion. I only request Mr. Hager take more responsibility in presenting his arguments in the future. Mr. Hager arguing for the strengths of his preferred path, and even outlining differences between his preferred path and MTA’s, elevates the debate to a positive plateau. It would be best for Mr. Hager to yield negativism to the two main political parties since it serves them so well in alienating the American electorate.

  6. The only argument Mr Hager presents against Move to Amend’s strategy is that Constitutional amendments are rare, difficult to pass, and even more difficult in the current corrupt political atmosphere. So by this rationale, I suppose we should just give up the idea of citizen sovereignty, and continue to let the moneyed interests run things. You can forget that, Mr Hager. Was it difficult for the American Crown Colonies to dissociate from the Crown-chartered corporations like the Eat India Company, whose tea wound up in Boston harbor? It was but we did it anyway — if it’s difficult to get an amendment to say that our rights as people are not meant for corporate entities like cities, companies, and unions, that’s all right — we’ll do it anyway.

    BTW, the concept of corporate personhood is not contained in the Fourteenth Amendment, that concept was erroneously applied to that amendment by the Supreme Court over a hundred years ago. It’s never too late to right a wrong.

  7. Rob Hager is a member of the professional left that obviously doesn’t want to win this fight because he’s protecting his law practice. Like most lawyers, Rob wants billable hours, not real solutions. Where did this “article” come from? Is this the only place it’s been published?

  8. Paul, I think that’s being overly harsh on Rob. As moderator for this site I asked Rob to write an article arguing why MTA was not a good idea. He did, and though I disagree I respect that such are his views.

    I feel that MTA is just the beginning. It has riled the people and demonstrates the political manipulation process.

    But even after an amendment we have much more to do. Proper followup legislation could indeed stop the Kochs from buying a politician directly by giving cash to his campaign, but it doesn’t stop the Kochs from giving cash to Karl Rove’s group to advertise on behalf of a politician.

    I wish there was a way of making any cash spent on behalf of a politician dirty, and so distasteful and costly to one’s election that even the mention is forbidden.

  9. MP,

    I respect your position and thank you for engaging in the debate. And of course we’ll have much more to do after an amendment. The amendment is required to clear the SCOTUS off the field of battle. Then we can all go back to our corners and gear up for the political fights. But without the amendment, corporate power is only going to grow and become more pervasive and more difficult to extract because the SCOTUS is 100% in the tank for them and the conservatives on the Court will only retire when a corporate Republican occupies the White House, if ever. This isn’t to say that state-level reform should stop, just that any progress is likely to be overturned by SCOTUS and we need to be ready with the trump card.

    This is far from the first time I’ve encountered Rob’s defeatist and accusatory insults. The politics of personal destruction is a two-way street and I race for pink slips! 😉 Here’s why…

    “But Move to Amend … is nothing short of consumer fraud.”

    Move To Amend is one of the most honest, volunteer-driven, poverty-stricken grassroots movements I’ve ever encountered. Occupy Wall Street has more money than MTA! And Rob is “active” with Occupy! At least according to The audacity of painting a truly ground-up operation as representative of the money-grubbing professional left is breathtaking, especially given the fact that it is Rob’s friends that more closely match that description (and I’ve been in plenty of meetings with Occupiers to know). But to go so far as to call it “fraud” is an unacceptable outrage. And while we’re here, Occupy may have introduced “99%” to the lexicon but Move To Amend has gotten hundreds of actual resolutions passed in towns, cities, counties and states around the country. While Occupy fiddles with itself, Move To Amend is getting it done!

    See our work dismantling Rob’s arguments here:

    and here:

    (Victor already linked to that last one above.)

    I have no problem with disagreements about the efficacy of any approach to dealing with corporate power in our lives, whether by amendment or other means. But I will not brook accusations from someone who has, so far, demonstrated only that his arguments are legally deficient and politically naive.

    For instance, even if 100% of the country agrees that money is not speech, as long as the SCOTUS rules that way, no legislation can change that, no matter what the people want. That’s how “judicial review” works and why so many people thought Marbury v. Madison was an injury to democracy. I’m not sure I agree with that sentiment but I understand its provenance.

    Article III, Section 2 grants Congress the power to regulate the appellate courts, including the exceptions to their jurisdiction. Rob imagines that it’s easier and more effective to use that power to strip the SCOTUS of its jurisdiction over campaign finance regulations than to pass an amendment. Logistically, that may be true (though it wasn’t with the 18-year old vote or the repeal of prohibition). Politically, it’s one of the most naive notions I’ve ever heard from a so-called lefty and that’s saying something!

    But worse, even if we went through the political nightmare such a legislative push would represent, it would have zero impact on the SCOTUS’s ability to rule that money is the equivalent of speech because nobody is going to strip the Court of its jurisdiction over the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the SCOTUS can always disconnect the civic imperative from the sanctity of speech.

    These are First and Fourteenth Amendment rulings and no amount of Congressional legislation can force the Courts to interpret them in any other way. None. Only an amendment or a different SCOTUS can do that. We have pointed that out numerous times and Rob has never responded to it, not even to disagree. His thesis is inevitably that it’s a distraction that is more trouble than it’s worth, not that it’s wrong. Because it isn’t wrong. He is.

    But when he points to a congressional remedy, or presents model legislation, that can force the SCOTUS to interpret the First and Fourteenth Amendments differently than it is now, I will absolutely be all ears! If someone showed me legislation that could get this job done effectively and permanently, I’d take it in a heartbeat!

    Thanks again for hosting a worthy discussion. 🙂

    • Let’s accept that MTA is worthwhile. What about Rob’s idea of using Article III, Section 2 to regulate campaign cash from the Fat Cats to politicians? Okay?

      • On purely technical grounds, passing legislation that invokes Congress’ Article III, Section 2 powers is possible. The problem with that approach lies in two areas — one structural, the other political.

        The structural problem relates to the difference between the First Amendment and Article I, Section 4, which reads:

        “The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing Senators.”

        Rob Hager (and his sometime writing partner James Leas) believe that the clause above grants Congress enough power to overrule the SCOTUS with respect to the spending of money in elections, which would cover the Citizens United ruling. The problem is that all the rulings up to and including Citizens United are entirely based on the SCOTUS’ interpretation of the scope of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, not the scope of Congressional authority under Article I. In other words, the Citizens United decision was not based on Congress overstepping its Article I authority (Article I isn’t even mentioned in the ruling), it’s based on Congress overstepping its authority to regulate speech under the First Amendment, as applied to corporations by virtue of the Fourteenth. I can think of no legislation that could effectively curtail that interpretation without an attempt to collapse the scope of the protections afforded by the First Amendment and nobody in his or her right mind is going to make that attempt.

        Which leads to the political problem. I view jurisdiction stripping as belonging to the same politically freighted category as court packing. The inevitable backlash is the argument that it would create a political advantage for one side or the other that is etched in stone, a permanent majority. Whether true or not makes no difference. It’s one co-equal branch trying to corral another co-equal branch and an instant partisan donnybrook. And it lacks the one thing that an amendment movement actually can do which is “be inspiring!” Nobody cares about legislation because it’s always larded down with pork and other goodies for campaign donors. An amendment benefits from its brevity. People read it and understand if they want to support it within seconds, not weeks or months as the analysis trickles in, as in the case with legislation. It is precisely the facility of amendment language, that Rob and James ridicule, that makes it an effective organizing tool and rallying point. To wit: hundreds of resolutions have already been passed around the country calling for an amendment. As far as I know, Rob and James are the only two people in the United States trying to rally support for an Article I remedy. I think that makes its own point.

        Lastly, the biggest problem facing our political system is apathy. Pretty much everyone agrees with that. What better way to enfranchise the disenfranchised than to bring them into a process in which they truly are the Framers of our form of government, probably for the first time in their lives. WE are the Framers. It’s actually our job. And it’s the way things are supposed to work in a constitutional republic. The Constitution is not the bible and amendments are not moonshots. We can do this. We should do this. We must do this. We owe it to posterity just as much as the original Framers did. And any argument that ridicules that process is unAmerican, in my view. That’s why I take such strong exception to the arguments and the tone presented by Rob (and James) in multiple articles, not just here.

        I’m afraid you waded hip-deep into an already exploding argument but you’ve handled it exceptionally well and maintained a wonderful tone and outlook. I’m not a big fan of recriminations and I would much rather have Rob and James turn their powers to more effective strategies. They’re not stupid people. They’re just making a stupid argument right now. But the “fraud” thing really did tick me off. 😉

      • Rob’s argument is, *IF* Article III, Section 2 *IS* possible, let’s use it. And I agree. MTA alone is limited, and frankly may take 10 years. Let’s hope not, but let’s also not sit on our duffs waiting. he proposes to get the center 20% of voters to rally around public funding of campaigns through single-issue voting (and I again agree, though this should not interfere with other efforts).

      • MP,

        With all due respect, that’s not his argument at all. He’s not saying it’s worth doing *if* it’s possible but that it’s the *only* option within the realm of possibility. I’m sorry, but after reading his piece again, I cannot see how anyone could come to the conclusion that Rob is making valid arguments. After describing how easy it is to turn young people off from the political process and those oh-so-effective solutions he keeps mentioning, his answer is found in this link:

        A freaking 12-step program? That’s his version of an “effective” strategy? One that includes this admonition:

        “Republicans credibly raise this objection, based on experience, to justify their opposition to the Democrats’ perpetually ineffective campaign finance reform proposals. Romney reflected this view when he said ‘I’m not in favor of McCain-Feingold. The campaign finance reform provisions didn’t do what they were intended to do. There’s more money in politics and it’s more hidden, not more open.'”

        Right, because Mitt Romney is just such a credible expert on campaign finance reform. And why is this suddenly framed as a Dem v. GOP issue? And why is the GOP seen as credible on this issue at all when they’re the ones that keep gutting the enforcement mechanisms from the reform legislation in the first place? Not saying Dems don’t always go along with the impotent compromises the GOP offers, it just strains credulity to assume the GOP isn’t just as culpable. Talk about buying into the divide and conquer mentality!

        But it gets worse with so-called solutions like this:

        “Comprehensive legislation should be drafted through a bottom-up wiki approach – not left to politicians, professional activists or even experts, though the assistance of experts in many fields will be useful. A single publicly vetted bill will include all provisions necessary for enforcement of a money-free electoral system that can equally and accurately record the informed choices of all citizens. Separate components have been suggested from different quarters. This task includes compiling these separate pieces into a single bill.”

        Oh, well, sure! No problem. We’ll just inform John Boehner that his services are no longer required since we’re all getting along so smashingly well with help from our new wiki! But all those “experts” sure do thank you for letting them come to your super wiki party, Rob and friends!

        If you’ve spent any time with Occupy at all, you know it’s heavily weighed down by people who have no idea what a leech field is or why we have regulations as detailed as the type of materials used in poured concrete. Much as it seems like an interpretive dance by a bad theater company, politics is actually an applied science. People have to take the application to real life seriously at some point. And a bottom-up wiki for comprehensive legislation, no matter super awesome it winds up being, is just not within the realm of the serious.

        If they want something other than a democratic republic, than they can start a real revolution and good luck with that. I’m actually fine with trying to make representative democracy work. Because much smarter people than us have already come to the conclusion that, barring universal telepathy, we’re just going to have to fight it out in public the best we can.

        Rob and his friends aren’t just in the wrong league, they’re playing a sport they don’t understand and making wild, unfounded accusations about other people and organizations they know, literally, nothing about, except for that which is publicly available. And this is far from the first time they’ve been caught using divide and conquer tactics among progressives, according to the info I’ve been getting from my friends over the last couple days.

        I have the bandwidth for just one more article dealing with Rob’s libelous rhetoric. And it ain’t gonna be pretty. 😉

  10. I notice two operative words repeated a few times – that seem to elude Progressives “Effective Strategy”. –
    Some other areas that need concentration – Cooperation – Stop yammering about stuff we agree about and Organize – End the academic ego trips.

  11. cliff barney says:

    i don’t see that mta has “riled the people.” it may have riled mr. hagar. but there is something commonsensical about “corporations are not people” and “money is not speech” that puts arguments about who may or may not contribute to rout. everyone i have mentioned these ideas to has replied “well, of course.” they are, in the description of the declaration of independence, “selfevident.”

  12. Brad Geyer says:

    Thanks for the dialogue Jack and Rob. These are important issues; and we should be discussing them, examining them, weighing the pros and cons.