Bloomberg’s Al Hunt: 'Watergate Return Inevitable as Cash Floods Elections'

Secret money from corporate special interests—that favor shipping American jobs overseas, turning Social Security over to Wall Street, and turning Medicare over to the insurance companies—is funding the Congressional Republican agenda. A column yesterday by Al Hunt, executive editor for Washington at Bloomberg News, predicts that “the U.S. is due for a huge scandal involving big money, bribery and politicians” because of undisclosed funding from secret corporate donors:

A prediction: The U.S. is due for a huge scandal involving big money, bribery and politicians. Not the small fry that dominates the ethics fights in Washington; really big stuff; think Watergate.

It is axiomatic in politics that without accountability there is abuse. This year, there is a massive infusion of special-interest money into U.S. politics that is secret, not reported. Corporations and other interests will spend more than $250 million of undisclosed funds to affect the outcome of the Nov. 2 national elections.

One of the villains is Citizens United, a sweeping Supreme Court decision last January that gave the green light for the use of corporate and union funds to try to sway elections.
Chief Justice John Roberts ’ five-member Supreme Court majority argued that massive amounts of special-interest cash don’t create an appearance of corruption; none of these five jurists ever faced a voter.

A former justice who did, Sandra Day O’Connor , was dumbstruck by the Citizens United case, cracking, “I step away for a couple years and there’s no telling what’s going to happen.”

One of the few good elements in the case was that the Court came down on the side of disclosure of this campaign money. It’s the Federal Election Commission — which for most of its 35-year history has been more interested in protecting politicians than the public interest — that has done nothing to prevent groups from hiding the source of these contributions.

“As a result, we have more money flowing into this campaign than ever before,” says Anthony Corrado , a professor at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, who specializes in campaign finance. “But voters know less about the source of that funding.”

…When criticized, [GOP operatives Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie] say they’re just a part of a conservative citizens’ revolt. In reality, their brainchild surely relies on a lot of the special interests and wealthy contributors that flourished during the Bush years.

…“There’s a case for a need to protect an anonymous, obscure pamphleteer,” says Walter Dellinger , who served as solicitor general in the Clinton administration and is one of the foremost scholars of the U.S. Constitution. “That hardly justifies allowing major multinational corporations to operate in American politics behind the veil of secrecy. This is the mother of all other issues for democratic governance.”

…Ever since Watergate, politicians have debated rules on the size and scope of campaign contributions. The 2002 McCain-Feingold measure, which cracked down on contributions and was signed by Bush, a Republican, was the culmination of years of intense struggle. In subsequent years, the courts, dominated by conservatives, have chipped away at the law, Citizens United representing the latest and most sweeping decision.

All campaign funds aren’t the same. Even the purest campaign-finance overhaul advocates have trouble faulting small grassroots contributions: most of the $750 million that Obama raised in the 2008 presidential campaign or the $14 million that Sharron Angle, a Tea Party-supported Republican candidate for a Nevada U.S. Senate seat, raised over the past three months.

Large contributions from corporations, unions, trade associations or wealthy individuals are another matter; these donors often expect something in return. Few of those making sizeable and secret gifts to the Rove-Gillespie effort are engaged in selfless acts of good governance.
There is no legitimate case against transparency. “Sunlight,” the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously noted, is “the best of disinfectants.”

House Republicans voted against the DISCLOSE Act, legislation to require disclosure of donations in the wake of the Supreme Court decision earlier this year opening up American elections to unlimited corporate funding, and Senate Republicans blocked it from coming to a vote.