What if Politicians are Asking Billionaires & Foreign Countries To Meddle in Our Elections?
Corruption never backs down - As long as the fraudulent Citizens United Supreme Court decisions are allowed to stand, fascism stands just within the outer hallways of our system of government
Could it be that American oligarchs and politicians are working with hostile foreign governments and greedy corporations to increase inflation, screw average Americans, and thus meddle in the upcoming elections?
We all know how Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United have let corporations legally corrupt our nation’s politicians. But what if the flow of corruption is working both ways, and some of our politicians are also calling the tune that some corporations — and even foreign governments — are playing to with regard to our economy and other issues?
The theory I’m going to posit here could be called a conspiracy theory, but just the fact that it is possible, even if it didn’t happen, should give us all pause. The history of this bizarre situation is fascinating and troubling.
Prior to 1978 it would have been a felony in 31 states for a corporation to pour money into advertising to swing a state ballot initiative election.
That was the year the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision so unprecedented that Republican Chief Justice Rehnquist himself wrote a dissent calling it out, Justice Lewis Powell ruled in Boston v Bellotti that laws preventing corporations from campaigning like that was an unconstitutional violation of their right, as persons, to free speech protections under the First Amendment.
Thirty-two years later things got even worse.
Prior to 2010 it would have been a felony for an officer or employee of a corporation to call up a member of Congress or other politician and offer money with only the thinnest of hints that they’d like specific legislation to come about.
But in the 5-4 Citizens United decision that dissenters saw as a direct assault on the integrity of American democracy, the five Republican appointees on the Court ruled that both corporate and billionaire free speech rights were so expansive that their ruling struck down most political bribery laws in the United States.
Thus, today a corporate CEO or lobbyist can offer a member of Congress money with one hand and a proposed piece of legislation with the other without fear of being held to account.
The Supreme Court has so corrupted American politics that hardly any legislation gets passed any more that doesn’t have huge sweeteners built into it to prevent opposition by billionaires or corporations.
For most Americans paying attention, this history of “the swamp” is not news: corporations and billionaires today routinely buy not just politicians but entire statewide political parties and, arguably, have near-total control over the national GOP (and a solid handful of elected Democrats).
But what if that seemingly one-way road also works in the opposite direction?
What if politicians are now going to corporations and billionaires to ask them to take actions that will directly, specifically, and exclusively help those politicians?
Even if those actions hurt America overall?
Here comes the theory. Consider this imaginary scenario:
The GOP wants to regain power in the upcoming election and its most senior leadership — say, Mitch McConnell — knows that the Achilles heel of any administration is the economy. When inflation goes up, the party in power is usually thrown out of office, as we saw writ large with the presidencies of Jerry Ford and Jimmy Carter.
So, imagine McConnell or one of his people calling up the CEOs of a handful of major corporations including airlines, pharmaceutical companies, banks, and refineries.
“Feel free to jack up your profits to nosebleed levels,” McConnell says. “We’ll provide the political cover, so you won’t have to worry about congressional investigations or windfall profits taxes.
“We just need you to raise prices enough to goose up those inflation numbers so we can destroy the Democrats in the upcoming election. As a bonus, when we’re back in power we’ll give you another tax cut!”
Meanwhile, Donald Trump wants to run for president again in 2024 and also believes that ruining the economy is the key to destroying Democrats’ chances of opposing him.
So, he has his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, call up the Saudi prince who just gave the Trump family $2 billion.
“Hey, Bonesaw,” Jared says. “It’s a shame the way Biden trash-talked you about Khashoggi and women’s rights and all: how’d you like to punish and humiliate him by destroying his entire party’s political future?
“And, as a twofer, you can help Putin take down a liberal democracy in Europe and throw the rest of the continent into such an energy crisis that more and more autocrats will replace democratic governments beyond what just happened in Sweden and Italy. Can you imagine? No more harassment from Europeans who think everybody should have a democracy? All you have to do is cut oil production by two million barrels a day and the rest will take care of itself.”
If it used to be corporations telling politicians what to do, why can’t politicians tell corporations what to do? Why can’t politics and corporate governance be seamlessly integrated?
The 1987 American Heritage Dictionary defined fascism as:
“A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, combined with belligerent nationalism.”
Are we there now?
In his autobiography I Paid Hitler, German industrialist Fritz Thyssen tells the story of how, in November of 1932, he and Hjalmar Schact pulled together a group of leaders of German business to successfully convince President von Hindenburg to appoint Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.
He also raised three million Reichsmarks from the Association of German Industrialists (like our Chamber of Commerce) to pour into the 1933 election that cemented Hitler’s power, gaining Thyssen easy access to the halls of Nazi power. Thyssen tells story after story about him and other industrialists trading financial and other support for legislative favors.
But it also ran in the other direction: Hitler and others high up in the Nazi regime would often reach out to Thyssen asking for German industry to take specific actions that would help the party, typically through goosing parts or regions of the economy to make Hitler look good.
You need more jobs in Bavaria to help with the next election (the way a Russian oligarch promised to build an aluminum and steel plant in Kentucky that helped Mitch McConnell get re-elected two years ago)?
No problem: there was always some captain of industry who could open a factory or just organize a press conference that would grab the headlines about jobs to come down the road to help a Nazi politician.
After all, if you’re going to “merge” the interests of “state and business” the benefits should flow in both directions, right? At least in this theory.
Such a merger was explicitly rejected by the Founders of this nation and the Framers of the Constitution, who had just fought a war against Britain and its largest and most profitable corporation, the East India Company.
Thomas Paine said it best: we created government to serve We, The People first and foremost.
“[I]ndividuals themselves,” he wrote in The Rights of Man in 1791, “entered into a compact with each other to produce a government: and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist.” [italics added]
As the Declaration of Independence says:
“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
But even in the early years of our republic those who’d accumulated great wealth tried to step in to take it over to promote their own interests. Then-retired President Jefferson laid out in an 1816 letter to Samuel Kerchival what today would be considered a blistering attack on corporate power:
“Those seeking profits,” he wrote, “were they given total freedom, would not be the ones to trust to keep government pure and our rights secure. Indeed, it has always been those seeking wealth who were the source of corruption in government. … I am not among those who fear the people. They, and not the rich, are our dependence for continued freedom.”
In his dissent in Citizens United, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote:
“Politicians who fear that a certain corporation can make or break their reelection chances may be cowed into silence about that corporation.”
But the flow of influence, if there’s a true merger of political and corporate interests, could just as easily flow in the other direction as Thyssen documents in 1930s Germany and I’m wondering out loud if we may be seeing here today.
While my examples above are fictitious, who’s to say something like that hasn’t actually happened? The growing circumstantial evidence is positively creepy.
When President Biden this week asked MBS to hold off on his oil production cuts for a month so they don’t jack gas prices in a way that will influence the upcoming election, the Saudi dictator essentially laughed at him.
“The Saudis said their decision,” reports The Washington Post, “was based solely on ‘economic considerations’ and was not ‘politically motivated’ against the United States.”
Similarly, the CEOs of America’s most profitable corporations, whose unrestrained price-gouging is making them more money than ever before, are laughing all the way to the bank while driving inflation to nosebleed levels that are destroying the economy and the stock market.
I’ve written several times suggesting that the inflation we’re experiencing (or at least a measurable part of it) is not just the result of an overheated economy as the Fed suggests, but, rather, is because so much of American industry is in the hands of what are essentially monopolies that they can raise raise prices with impunity. And are doing so.
Raising interest rates will do little to stop that kind of inflation: it requires government taking on the corporations. The conservative government of the United Kingdom just did this last month with a windfall profits tax on their oil industry.
As the St. Louis Fed notes, American corporate profits started at a few hundred billion dollars a year during the 15 years of 2005 to 2020, then exploded into the thousands of billions of dollars a year range — for the first time in American history — in the weeks after Joe Biden moved into the White House.
Nobody in the mainstream media is coming to these same conclusions, which suggests this theory is outside of the Overton window or just wrong: it’s likely it has more to do with the widespread use of vaccines than a conspiracy. Nonetheless, it seems important to point out the scenario that has happened in other countries in the past.
Again, it’s just a theory. Another possibility is the corporate bigwigs are just returning a favor to the Republicans, who have treated them so kindly with tax cuts and gutting the IRS while fattening their own money bins. Or, they’re just doing it because they can.
In either case, it’s corrupt.
And corruption never backs down. As long as the fraudulent Buckley, Bellotti, and Citizens United Supreme Court decisions are allowed to stand, corruption will continue to be interwoven into our political and economic system.
The For The People Act would have taken a bite out of those decisions, regulating dark money, mandating transparency, and providing for public funding of elections.
It passed the House of Representatives but was defeated in the Senate by the united opposition of every single Republican and on-the-take Democratic Senators Manchin and Sinema.
Whether its done by changing the composition of the Court, amending the Constitution, Congress forbidding the Supreme Court from ruling on issues of democracy (see Article 3, Section 2 of the Constitution), or nibbling away piece by piece as the For The People Act would have begun, strengthening democracy in America will require taking on these corrupt SCOTUS decisions.
And that’s going to take a substantial pro-democracy majority in Congress.
So, wild-assed theory or not, double-check your voter registration and show up to vote next month!
God help us all. It makes more sense than all the other explanations we’ve been given. Many of them were certainly lies.
And the timing, the timing of all of this is very interesting .
And , I believe ,
Thank you , Thom Hartmann for a very timely ,worthwhile,consideration.
The corruption continues.
I kept thinking of DeSantis while I was reading your piece today. When corporations begin responding to their customers that are in opposition to illiberal policies, politicians turn to taking away those corporate benefits to keep corporations inline, DeSantis vs Disney for example.