Political and legal ramifications of certain Supreme Court cases have increased the flow of big money into our political system. Highly acclaimed law professor, political commentator and former White House Chief Ethics Counsel Richard Painter discusses why we need to fix democracy using a constitutional amendment.
Richard Painter has long been a figure in the political and legal landscapes. Painter graduated from Harvard summa cum laude before attending Yale Law School. After law school, he clerked for Judge John T. Noonan Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. From 2005 to 2007, Painter served as White House chief ethics counsel. He has worked at multiple law schools across the country, including the University of Oregon School of Law and the University of Illinois School of Law. Currently, he is the S. Walter Richey Professor of Corporate Law at the University of Minnesota Law School, vice-chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and a frequent political commentator shining a spotlight on corruption in government.
At the 2018 National Citizen Leadership Conference, Painter discussed the legal and political ramifications of Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United, which have opened the door for big money in politics. Painter says that the influence of big money can cause voters to lose confidence in democracy and turn to totalitarian figures who claim they will single-handedly fix the system. Read an excerpt from Painter’s speech below.
“We've had a problem with corruption for a long time. President Theodore Roosevelt spoke about the corporate interests dominating both the bosses of the Republican Party and the bosses of the Democratic Party, and I don't think too much has changed. That's very unfortunate.
Citizens United is part of a trend of judicial activism by the United States Supreme Court in this arena going back to the 1970s in the Buckley versus Valeo decision. This shouldn't be a partisan issue. Voters across the political spectrum should be extremely angry.
Even Barry Goldwater was strongly opposed to what the Supreme Court was doing in the 1970s. He didn't live to see the debacle of Citizens United. But, this takes democracy away from the people and puts both of the major political parties in the hands of big business and whoever has the money to influence politics.
Voters are dizzy and discouraged. Younger voters disengaged. We see more and more voters identifying themselves as independents because they're sick and tired of the two major political parties raising money from PACs and depending on super PACs. People talk about a “red tsunami” or a “blue wave,” knowing that most of that's going to be paid for on either side by the top .01 percent.
We have no idea whether the people who are funding these elections are even Americans. … We have no idea who funds these 501(c)4 organizations that have been blessed by the Citizens United opinion, because those organizations don't disclose who their donors are.
President Obama called for disclosure of who the donors are for laws, at least requiring disclosure. The supreme court wouldn't have thrown those out, but a Democratic-controlled House and Senate refused to do that.
The point is that both political parties are complicit, and we need to put a stop to this. The voters are increasingly becoming angry at what's going on, and angry voters make some very bad decisions. I remember going up to New Hampshire in February 2016, right before the primary, and giving a speech about this — trying to warn people about how we could be really angry about Citizens United and corruption in this country, and we should be.
There was a lot of corruption in the Weimar Republic of Germany too in the 1920s leading up to the 1932 and 1933 elections. They didn't make a good decision. That's the risk we face in our democracy: If we don't fix this and we don't involve everybody, voters are going to start to look to totalitarian candidates.
We're experimenting with it this time with Donald Trump.
We'll probably be rid of him at some point, but this is going to happen again because voters are not going to trust democracy. That's the most tragic part of this. We've got to fix it now.”