Supreme Court Has Made Ugly U.S. Politics Even Uglier

The Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision has already changed the complexion of this year's campaigns.


The Supreme Court has done the impossible by making American politics even worse than it already was. The bomb that the court dropped on campaigns was the infamous Citizens United decision.

This year the court will decide two cases that will have an immediate effect on federal and state elections. Monday, the court will begin to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Next stop for the nine justices is a ruling on the constitutionality of the Arizona law that restricts immigration. Both cases could roil the political waters.

[See a collection of political cartoons on healthcare.]

But the court's 2010 Citizens United decision has already changed the complexion of this year's campaigns. The basis of the court's decision to allow unlimited corporate political spending was that a corporation is a person and therefore is entitled to freedom of speech under the First Amendment. If a corporation is a person why hasn't Gov. Rick Perry executed BP for the death and destruction it caused in the Gulf Coast? God knows, real people in Texas have been fried for less.

The court's Citizens United decision made a bad system even worse.

After the 2008 presidential campaign Americans were already horrified at the negativity of political campaigns. They ain't seen nothing yet. The extra money that Citizens United has pumped into the political system has exponentially increased the number of negative ads on the air. Voters in the early primary and caucus states are completely shell shocked and the super PACs for congressional campaigns are still waiting in the wings. Former Gov. Mitt Romney's campaign and super PAC that supports it, Restore Our Future, have a great good cop, bad cop combo. The Romney campaign took the high road while the Romney Death Star completely obliterated former House Speaker Next Gingrich's candidacy. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

[Check out our collection of political cartoons on Super PACs.]

The avalanche of negative ads has predictably driven turnout down. During the 2008 Democratic slugfest between then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, voter participation increased. But because there are a lot more negative ads on the air now in the GOP contest, turnout has been down. Because of the scale of the electronic mud wrestling match, the images of all the GOP candidates are soiled. Maybe Mitt Romney's Etch A Sketch can scrub his image but it won't be easy to do in the two short months between the GOP convention and November 6.

The rise of the super PACs has also been a godsend for single issue politics. The Gingrich presidential committee ran out of money a couple of months ago and the only thing keeping the former speaker on life support is the more than $20 million that casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his family has given to the Gingrich-supporting super PAC Winning Our Future. Adelson's cause is blind American support for anything Israel wants to do, even if those actions threaten our national security. Wall Street bankers and billionaires who have shunned the president because of his efforts to tame corporate abuses have donated millions of dollars to the Romney-supporting super PAC.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney.]

Citizens United has also allowed individual millionaires to have a lot of influence on the candidates. Sheldon Adelson is an obvious example the ability of one wealthy person to get a hook on a candidate but there are others. Bob Perry is millionaire Houston homebuilder who funded the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth PAC, which badly wounded John Kerry in 2004. The U.S. Navy should have rewarded the Massachusetts senator another Purple Heart for the beating he took from Swift Boat Veterans. Perry has donated $3 million to the Romney super PAC. Energy investor and noted birth control expert Foster Friess has been a generous donor to the super PAC that supports former Sen. Rick Santorum, The Red, White and Blue Fund. Friess frequently appears standing next to the candidate on the podium at campaign events. So much for Santorum and Friess obeying the law that forbids coordinated strategy between the two of them.

There was a time when the Supreme Court did everything it could to avoid the "political thickets." That approach has gone the way of of moderate Republicans and clean campaigns.

  • See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP hopefuls.
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