The Corporate Supreme Court Slides a Knife Into The Back of Democracy, and All For The Sake of "Free Speech"

How noble of Scalia and Roberts and the rest of the corporate suck-up bunch. I'd give anything to know who has been courting them to make certain this decision was made. Regardless, I can't say it better than Politico.Com did, so here we go:

Some of the of biggest special interest groups in Washington are expected to take full advantage of a Supreme Court decision Thursday enabling them to spend millions on attack ads in the 2010 midterm elections, even as the Obama administration and congressional Democrats scramble to close the gaping holes the ruling carved into campaign finance rules.

Thursday’s highly anticipated 5-4 decision in a case brought by the conservative nonprofit group Citizens United reversed decades of law restricting corporations and unions from spending their general funds on ads supporting or opposing candidates. And it left liberals and advocates for stricter campaign finance rules predicting an explosion of corporate-funded ads attacking Democrats.

“We are moving to an age where we won’t have the senator from Arkansas or the congressman from North Carolina, but the senator from Wal-Mart and the congressman from Bank of America,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the left-leaning watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Campaign strategists and lawyers who advise corporations, unions and independent political groups on political spending also predicted a surge in ads as a result of the decision.

Ben Ginsberg, a top Republican election lawyer, predicted the decision would render “obsolete” so-called 527 groups, which helped shape the 2004 presidential election with brutal attack ads that pushed the bounds of election law.

Ads like those aired by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacking 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry can now be paid for more directly by for-profit or nonprofit corporations or trade groups.

In place of 527s, Ginsberg predicted an expanded role for groups set up under sections 501(c)4 and 501(c)6 of the Internal Revenue Service code, which he said require “meager disclosure requirements of their donors.”

Ginsberg also predicted the decision would be good for consultants who advise outside groups on their spending and media strategies. One Democratic consultant professed to making “tons of sales calls” after the decision, calling it an “economic recovery package” for consultants.

What many strategists and lawyers said they don’t expect to see is American International Group spending millions on ads attacking congressmen who criticized its bonuses or medical firms seeking vengeance on President Barack Obama for pushing to overhaul the nation’s health care system.

Instead, they think deep-pocketed companies seeking to target Obama or congressional Democrats will funnel their cash to existing or yet-to-be-created coalitions — such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America or the National Association of Manufacturers — that are expected to take advantage of the new spending flexibility provided by the ruling.

In recent years, shareholders have independently challenged executives to disclose, explain and justify their participation in partisan politics. For now, that mostly includes making political donations. The scrutiny would intensify significantly if it also meant paid television advertising.

Most corporate leaders of publicly held firms long ago grew leery of playing in politics in a big way lest they put off customers, though the Chamber and other umbrella groups could shield some businesses from exposure by pooling money and taking full credit or blame for how it is spent.

At the same time, campaign finance experts expect there will be some privately held firms with ideological bents that now will engage more directly in campaigns.

“The greatest opportunity for money to flow is corporations giving to trade associations and advocacy groups to have them air the ads,” said Michael Toner, a former Federal Election Commission chairman who advises Republican committees and candidates on campaign finance laws. “They’re the ones that could really benefit from this. The key will be how much money can they amass, and how much are they willing to spend?”

But the new landscape could also benefit unions and big-spending outside groups that tend to support Democrats, such as the Sierra Club and NARAL Pro-Choice America, though such groups tend to have less access to cash than do corporations.

The White House on Thursday joined with Democratic lawmakers, who were facing a treacherous 2010 electoral environment even before the decision, in pledging to push through legislation to minimize the impact of the decision before the midterm elections.

But it’s going to be tough for them to significantly alter the landscape before Election Day — some states hold primaries as early as next month. And there hasn’t been any political will for major campaign finance reform since the 2002 overhaul known as the McCain-Feingold act.

The long-awaited court ruling stems from a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission brought by Citizens United. It alleged its free speech rights were violated when the FEC moved to block it from using corporate cash to promote and air “Hillary: The Movie,” a feature-length movie harshly critical of then-senator — and current secretary of state — Hillary Clinton during her 2008 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The FEC asserted that the movie expressly opposed Clinton’s election and therefore was subject to campaign laws that bar the use of corporate cash to air election ads and that require donor disclosure. Citizens United disagreed and sued.

The court divided along ideological lines in the case, with Justice Anthony Kennedy casting the deciding vote and writing the majority opinion. He was joined by Roberts and fellow conservative justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia.

“No sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporations,” Kennedy wrote.

After the ruling, some groups that advocate stricter campaign finance rules called for a constitutional amendment specifying that for-profit corporations are not entitled to First Amendment protections, except for freedom of the press.

Among the more incremental legislative options congressional Democrats and the White House are considering to stem the flow of money into campaigns are proposals to publically finance congressional elections or require corporations to disclose their political activity to shareholders.

And Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday pushed the idea of requiring shareholders to vote before a corporation could give money directly to a candidate.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who blasted the ruling as paving the way for “special-interest dollars to dictate the details of public policy,” said House Democrats would “work with the Obama administration and explore legislative options available to mitigate the impact of this disappointing decision.”

And Obama, in a statement accusing the court of giving “a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics,” said he had instructed his administration “to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue.”

White House ethics lawyer Norm Eisen, the Obama administration’s lead on campaign finance issues, has been in contact with Schumer and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) about tougher campaign finance rules.

The president’s strongly worded statement echoed both Obama’s campaign rhetoric about the need to reduce the role of special interest money in politics and his recent efforts to tap populist anger.

He called the ruling “a major victory for Big Oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”

But Obama has largely disappointed advocates for stricter campaign finance rules, who point out he has yet to fulfill a campaign promise to overhaul the presidential public financing system.

“This is a test of the commitment of the White House and congressional leadership toward having reasonable limits on money and politics,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyists for Public Citizen, a nonprofit group that pushes for stricter campaign finance rules.


Chinese Teenager, Zhang Xuping, Assasinates Communist Boss - Thousands Grateful

By GILLIAN WONG, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jan 21, 10:07 am ET

BEIJING – When Li Shiming was stabbed through the heart by a hired assassin, few of his fellow villagers mourned the local Communist Party official many say made their lives hell by seizing land, extorting money and bullying people for years.

Instead, villagers in the northern town of Xiashuixi have made Li's teenage killer something of a local hero. More than 20,000 people from the coal-mining area petitioned a court for a lenient sentence.

"I didn't feel surprised at all when I heard Li Shiming was killed, because people wanted to kill him a long time ago," said villager Xin Xiaomei, who says her husband was harassed for years by Li after the two men had a personal dispute. "I wanted to kill Li myself, but I was too weak."

The murder trial has again cast a harsh light on abuses of power by communist cadres and the frustration many ordinary Chinese feel with a one-party system that sometimes allows officials to run their districts like personal fiefdoms.

China's leaders have identified corruption as a threat to the country's progress, but an opaque political system dominated by the ruling Communist Party — which brooks no dissent — and the lack of an independent judiciary contribute to the problem.

In the case of party secretary Li, the young man who confessed to the stabbing — 19-year-old Zhang Xuping — has been sentenced to death for the September 2008 killing, his mother and lawyer said Wednesday. The sentence was quietly handed down last week and an appeal was filed this week, they said.

Zhang Xuping was paid 1,000 yuan ($146) by another villager, 35-year-old farmer Zhang Huping, to commit the murder after Li allegedly harassed the farmer for years, local newspaper reports said. The elder Zhang was reportedly routinely detained on trumped up charges ever since he led a group of farmers to seek the help of provincial authorities after Li razed 28 acres of trees belonging to them without permission or compensation in 2003.

The teenager entered a school where Li was attending a meeting, found the official alone and stabbed him through the heart. Li staggered out of the building and into his luxury sports utility vehicle but died before he could make it to a hospital, reports said.

The case quickly turned into an outpouring of sympathy for the young killer — and expressions of hatred for Li.

Zhang's trial, which was originally scheduled for August, had to be postponed to late November because thousands of people showed up outside the courthouse wanting to watch the proceedings, news reports said.

Nearly 21,000 people from the area around Xiashuixi petitioned the court for leniency for Zhang — to no avail.

In Xiashuixi, villagers contacted by the AP said that for years they had lived in fear of Li, who they say extorted money and used his influence to have those who resisted him detained or jailed.

Zhang Weixing, 58, said Li illegally seized his land of 3.3 acres and built houses on it three years ago, and he hired thugs to beat him, his wife and children when they tried to stop him.

"When we heard Li Shiming was dead, we felt happy because he did so many evil things and really made us villagers suffer," said Zhang Weixing, who is unrelated to the family of the accused, by phone. "We all hated him."

During his trial, the defendant apologized to Li's family, the state-owned Beijing Youth Daily newspaper said. But Li's eldest son rejected the apology in court and said he hoped judges would sentence his father's killer to "death by firing squad."

Li's death has dealt an immeasurable blow to the family, the son said, adding that his younger brother and sister were unable to focus on their studies and may stop going to school for the time being. Attempts to reach the Li family by phone were unsuccessful, and family members have not publicly addressed the allegations that he was corrupt.

Zhang's case echoes two other instances of ordinary Chinese who became anti-heroes after killing people in positions of power.

In June, a Chinese woman who fatally stabbed a party official to fend off his demands for sex was freed by a court in a decision that was likely made to avoid a storm of criticism.

But in 2008, Yang Jia, a man who confessed to killing six Shanghai police officers in revenge for allegedly being tortured while interrogated about a possibly stolen bicycle was executed despite an outpouring of sympathy.

Unlike those cases, China's state media after initially following Zhang's case did not report his conviction nor his death sentence — a likely indication the government ordered a media blackout.

A Beijing-based lawyer and legal blogger, Liu Xiaoyuan, said the court should have taken public opinion into account given the large number of people who had spoken out in Zhang's defense.

"If the village secretary had acted illegally and aroused the anger of the mass of villagers, then lenient punishment should have been considered by the court," Liu said. "It has become the will of people. The death sentence is too heavy."

The case reflects the desperation that China's rural poor are driven to when bullied by their leaders, wrote Chinese social commentator Yan Changhai on his blog: "Zhang Xuping is guilty. His biggest crime is that he dared to resist a bandit-like official, and refused to be obedient and to be a slave," Yan wrote.

Yan blamed the murder on collusion between officials and local police and courts.

"If the authorities did not indulge Li Shiming's evil deeds, if even one of his evil deeds was punished by law, he would have avoided death under Zhang Xuping's knife," he wrote.


Jon Burge - A Modern Day Torquemada Cop: Man who alleges police torture free after 23 years

From Associated Press
January 14, 2010 7:39 PM EST

CHICAGO (AP) — A man who contends Chicago police tortured him into confessing to a murder he did not commit walked out of a courtroom a free man Thursday after more than 23 years behind bars.
Assistant Special State's Attorney Andrew Levine said prosecutors agreed to drop the charges against Michael Tillman after concluding that without the coerced confession there was not enough evidence to convict him.

"I'm just glad justice finally prevailed," said 43-year-old Tillman who was convicted of taking part in the 1986 rape and murder of Betty Howard who lived in a building where he had worked as a handyman. The Chicago woman's attackers tied her to a radiator in her apartment building, sexually assaulted her then shot her to death.

Tillman smiled widely as he left a Cook County courtroom and said that until recently he had not believed he would ever be free.

In court papers, prosecutors said Tillman's confession had been a "product of coercion" and that he had been the victim of a "pattern and practice of abuse" that had existed in a particular police station on the city's South Side.

The papers filed this week do not detail what Tillman — along with dozens of other black men who were interrogated in Area 2 Headquarters in the 1970s and 1980s — allegedly went through at the hands of Chicago police detectives.

Tillman and his attorneys say that, in the course of three days in 1986, detectives turned an interview room into a torture chamber.

Police, they said, beat him with a phone book, punched him in the face and the body until the floor was slick with his blood. They put a gun to his head and a plastic bag over his head and even poured 7-Up into his nose.

"It was a crude form of waterboarding (in which) they induced the feeling of suffocating or drowning," said one of his attorneys, Locke Bowman.

Finally, as Bowman and others say happened to many other black suspects, Tillman told the detectives what they wanted to hear.

Another man, Clarence Trotter, remains in prison for Howard's murder. In court papers, prosecutors say there was substantial evidence, including fingerprints, linking him to the crime.

Tillman's release is just the latest chapter in a story of police abuse that has dogged the department for decades.

In 2006, authorities confirmed what the black community on the South Side had known for years: that the police routinely tortured suspects in Area 2 to extract confessions.

Prosecutors appointed to look into allegations surrounding the unit and its then-commander, Jon Burge, found that some of the allegations were true but that the cases were too old to bring criminal charges.

Subsequently, a number of convictions have been reversed, some suspects have been freed and millions of dollars have been paid out to settle lawsuits of men who claim they were wrongfully convicted.

Burge faces federal charges that he lied under oath about the use of torture on suspects.