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Court gives plutocracy financial underpinning

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Citizens United vs. FEC, determined that corporations are “people” and thus can spend unlimited amounts of money advocating for political causes and candidates.

Although this ruling theoretically extended the “people” label to labor unions, the real result was a wave of anti-labor legislation in states such as Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, designed to reduce the financial resources available to unions.

As if to underscore its hypocrisy, the court itself, in its 2012 Knox vs. SEIU decision, further reduced the ability of unions to raise funds for political advocacy, and, in its more recent Harris vs. Quinn decision, the court even made it more difficult for unions to raise money for collective bargaining purposes.

Citizens United was especially controversial and raised ethical concerns after it was discovered that two of the justices who voted in favor of it – Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas – had also attended “political retreats” sponsored by the billionaire Koch brothers, arguably among the principal beneficiaries of the ruling.

In 2014, in McCutcheon vs. FEC, the court expanded the power of the plutocrats even further by allowing them to directly donate to an unlimited number of political candidates.

In doing so, the court’s majority dismissed corruption concerns simply by limiting the definition of political corruption to the “quid pro quo” variety, where an individual or group demands favors in return for directly conferring financial benefits upon another.

Currently, in Wisconsin, the far-reaching repercussions of Citizens and McCutcheon, and the court’s cramped definition of corruption, may have become evident after Federal District Judge Rudolph T. Randa issued an injunction halting an investigation into possible “illegal coordination” that may have occurred between outside advocacy groups and governor Scott Walker’s campaign team during a recent recall election. Randa’s decision even went so far as to order the destruction of evidence related to this investigation.

Although Walker supporters have labeled this investigation a “witch hunt,” Walker himself helped fuel concerns about “illegal coordination” when, during his anti-labor crusade, he had been duped into answering a prank telephone call that he believed was coming from David Koch.

In a recording of this call, the individual impersonating Koch calls Wisconsin “the first domino,” to which Walker replies, “Yep. This is our moment.”

Randa’s decision initially raised concerns because his wife had financially contributed to Walker in the past, and the husband of Randa’s judicial assistant was, according to The Nation, “a top lawyer for Walker’s campaign.”

These concerns were recently magnified when it was revealed that the group requesting the injunction, Wisconsin Club for Growth, had received funding from the Koch brothers, and that Randa had attended “judicial junkets” – described by The Progressive as “privately funded, all-expense-paid trips for judges” – that had also received Koch brothers funding.

Still, despite these concerns, a federal appeals court recently upheld Randa’s ruling halting the investigation.

So with an election coming up in the near future, please be wary about believing everything you read and hear, especially from groups with benevolent-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity. Check into the identities and agendas of their financial backers. Americans for Prosperity, for example, was founded by David Koch, and I think it can be argued that the only “prosperity” that interests him is the personal prosperity of the increasingly powerful American plutocracy.

David R. Hoffman is a retired South Bend attorney. He wrote this for Indiana newspapers.