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As we sift through the aftermath of this week’s primary elections, folks should check out two new “must reads” from the state’s editorial pages about the bottom-of-the-barrel, big-money attack ads that infected the race for a state Supreme Court seat.

In this essay published in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer, Melissa Price Kromm of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections and Bert Brandenburg of the group Justice at Stake in Washington, D.C had this to say:

“After years of avoiding the explosion in judicial election spending nationwide, North Carolina is quickly earning an unwelcome reputation. In the 2011-2012 judicial election cycle, more than $3.5 million was spent for just one state Supreme Court seat; more than $2.8 million of that came from outside groups.

The soaring independent spending in North Carolina is in keeping with national trends since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that unleashed unlimited independent spending on elections

These trends pose a disturbing threat to our courts – that justice might be for sale. Read More

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This morning’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer gets it right on the U.S. Supreme Court’s latest campaign finance decision in favor of big money:

“Voting 5-4 along ideological lines, the high court said in McCutcheon v. FEC that the current limit on the aggregate amount individuals can give to candidates violates the First Amendment. The decision lifts the $48,600 limit that an individual could contribute every two years to all federal candidates. It also removed the $74,600 limit on individual contributions to federal party committees. However, the court kept in place the limit on giving to one candidate, $2,600 per primary and general election.

The decision adds to the unfolding catastrophe of the court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling that allowed corporations and labor unions to give unlimited amounts to Political Action Committees and other groups that seek to influence elections and politicians. That decision spawned super PACs and ‘dark money’ groups in which corporations can spend directly to influence elections without having to disclose the source of the money. As a result, non-party, outside spending in 2012 tripled that of 2008….

The McCutcheon decision is especially shameful for the history behind the limits it ends and the evidence of how Citizens United has already warped the nation’s democratic process. The aggregate limits were imposed in response to the Watergate scandal that exposed anew the corrupting effect of campaign cash. That the court did not lift the limits on contributions to individual candidates seems to acknowledge the hazards of unlimited giving in a particular race. Why would that caution not also be applied to having wealthy contributors giving the maximum amount to an unlimited number of candidates?

Further, the court continued to spill more money into politics even as giving allowed by Citizens United is turning elections into auctions. Concentrations of wealth – whether held by corporations or the ever-soaring 1 percent – are distorting election issues with misleading and deceptive ads and subverting the ability of the popular will to make itself heard at the polls.”

Read the rest of the editorial by clicking here.

newsobserver.com/2014/04/02/3753198/mccutcheon-ruling-compounds-damage.html?sp=/99/108The McCutcheon decision is especially shameful for the history behind the limits it ends and the evidence of how Citizens United has already warped the nation’s democratic process. The aggregate limits were imposed in response to the Watergate scandal that exposed anew the corrupting effect of campaign cash. That the court did not lift the limits on contributions to individual candidates seems to acknowledge the hazards of unlimited giving in a particular race. Why would that caution not also be applied to having wealthy contributors giving the maximum amount to an unlimited number of candidates?Further, the court continued to spill more money into politics even as giving allowed by Citizens United is turning elections into auctions. Concentrations of wealth – whether held by corporations or the ever-soaring 1 percent – are distorting election issues with misleading and deceptive ads and subverting the ability of the popular will to make itself heard at the polls.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/04/02/3753198/mccutcheon-ruling-compounds-damage.html?sp=/99/108/#storylink=cpy

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Holding true to their inclinations revealed at oral argument and splitting along party lines in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission that 2-year aggregate limits on campaign contributions are invalid under the First Amendment.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia,Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote an opinion concurring in the result, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.

At issue in McCutcheon was the federal law that caps the total amount of campaign contributions an individual can give to all federal candidates over a two-year period at $48,600. It also limits the total amount an individual can give to political committees that make contributions to candidates to $74,600 and caps the total amount for contributions in the two-year cycle at to $74,600.

Read the full opinion here.

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In this excellent post, Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick takes a look at the insidious movement to extend and expand “personhood” and argues that the movement’s underlying tenets, taken to extremes by courts and legislatures, wind up demeaning the very essence of being human.

As Lithwick notes, corporations are people — at least for purposes of political expression — following the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC.  So too will zygotes be if anti-abortion activists have their way with legislators across the country.

And now the Supreme Court will once again address the scope of “personhood”  in the two cases it agreed to hear last week — Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. v. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, deciding whether coroporations are people for purposes of religious expression as well.

Here’s why that determination should be troublesome for people (human beings) regardless of religious views or politics:

Hobby Lobby and Conestoga are ultimately so worrisome because they fuse together two of the most dangerous right-wing civil rights obsessions of our times: the ambition of large, for-profit corporations to see themselves as people, with faith, convictions, and consciences, and the attempt of citizens, using their own science and their own facts, to declare when legal personhood begins, and then impose universal laws based on those beliefs. The cases are a collision of two very insidious legal metaphors — that personhood begins when any one religion says it does and that religious personhood can be vested in corporations in ways that can be forced on workers. It simply cannot be the case that in a country of 319 million people, we are ready to recognize zygotes and Walmart as legal “persons.” We can protect animals and unborn babies and corporations without also embodying them with a humanity they don’t possess. Turning everything and anything into a “person” ultimately also serves to turn persons into things.

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Elena Kagan, the youngest justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, wasted no time yesterday jumping into the fray during argument in the latest campaign finance case, McCutcheon v. FEC, according to this Reuters report.

At issue in McCutcheon is the viability of FEC aggregate limits on contributions to candidates and political committees.

Just minutes after the argument began, Kagan fired off a number of worst-case scenarios that might result if the court threw out those limits:

Kagan raised the specter of an individual donor who stays within the base $5,000 limit for a Political Action Committee (PAC) but then – presuming the aggregate limits are lifted – contributes to 100 PACs. She theorized that money could be transferred to U.S. Senate candidates who would know of the original contributions and feel beholden to the contributors.

Under another scenario, she said, an individual could stay within base limits on contributions to candidates, parties and committees but – if facing no overall cap – give a total $3.5 million. “Having written a check for 3.5-or-so million dollars … are you suggesting that that party and the members of that party are not going to owe me anything, that I won’t get any special treatment?”

Those scenarios, mocked by Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, caught the attention of others, though — including Justice Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts — prompting some to speculate that a decision along party lines might not be forthcoming.

At another point, Kagan took a shot at her conservative colleagues’ decision in Citizens United:

Justice Kennedy, who wrote the Citizens United decision, challenged Verrilli about the underpinning of the court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling that gave government more leeway to put limits on contributions compared to expenditures.

Verrilli said Congress could always write a new law, if it chose, changing the contribution limits.

That prompted Kagan to interject, “And General, I suppose that if this court is having second thoughts about its rulings that independent expenditures are not corrupting, we could change that part of the law.” That would mean reversing Citizens United. Said Verrilli, “Far be it from me to suggest that you don’t, your honor.”