“In fact, there is only scant evidence that independent expenditures even ingratiate. Ingratiation and access, in any event, are not corruption.” Justice Anthony Kennedy, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, January 21, 2010
It’s hard to know whether the good justice is naive or not reading news accounts of the onslaught of money in the American political system. In any event, the significance of Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in the Citizens United case became evident last week when Chief Justice John Roberts quoted it as precedent in McCutcheon et al. v. Federal Election Commission, a ruling that obliterates limits on the aggregate amounts of money the super-rich can contribute of political candidates in an election cycle. “‘Ingratiation and access… are not corruption,’” Roberts wrote, “Any regulation must instead target what we have called ‘quid pro quo’ corruption or its appearance.”
Apparently, naiveté is endemic among the conservative majority on the nation’s highest court.
In McCutcheon, the five Republican justices — as E.J. Dionne points out, these justices have not forgotten their prior political allegiances — continued their campaign to open the floodgates of big money, turning the United States into an oligarchy where a few incredibly wealthy political donors have outsized influence on the political process.
It is naive at best to claim big money does not ingratiate. If money did not ingratiate, why then did four current and former Republican governors participate in the “Sheldon primary?” Scott Walker, John Kasich, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush evidently believed it worth their time to spend a weekend catering to the whims of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Apparently, the putative 2016 candidates thought several days ingratiating themselves to Adelson was more important than wooing voters on the campaign trail.
Adelson is the chap who poured $92 million in 2012 into the failed campaigns of Newt Gingrich in the primaries and Mitt Romney in the general election. This time, he wants to win, so he’s shopping for a viable candidate.
In Las Vegas, New Jersey’s Governor Christie learned a lesson about the significance of money in politics. As part of the “Sheldon primary,” the candidates spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition. The group, like Adelson, is hawkish on Israel. In his remarks, Christie referred to the “occupied territories,” a locution any knowledgable American leader would use. But not this crowd, which became restless at that description of the territories in which Palestinians live under an Israeli military presence.
“Occupied territories” is the term the United States government employs for the West Bank and Gaza, but conservative Zionists and other hard-line Jews prefer “Judea and Samaria” or the “disputed territories.” The term “occupied” implies temporality, but many modern-day Zionists believe Israel should never relinquish the territories.
Given the audience, Christie’s reference to “occupied territories” was a faux pas. The comment endangered his chances of winning the “Sheldon primary,” so Christie had a hastily arranged meeting with the mogul to apologize and to make clear, as a source told Politico, that his remarks “were not meant to be a statement of policy” and that he “misspoke when he referred to the ‘occupied territories.’”
The source added that Adelson accepted Christie’s explanation.
This may all sound arcane, but it’s not. Christie evidently is comfortable using the term “occupied territories,” as is almost everyone else other than rightwing, pro-Israeli hawks. That small number of people includes Sheldon Adelson, so to please the moneyman, Christie quickly apologized for his “gaffe.”
This incident may not qualify as “corruption” in the narrow sense used by the Supreme Court. But it does demonstrate the power of money. Chris Christie tailored his Israeli beliefs to win Sheldon Adelson’s affections, and if Chris Christie were to become president, Sheldon Adelson’s views on Israel and the territories might well trump the opinions of all previous U.S. administrations and the beliefs of the majority of Americans.
That’s damn ingratiating of the governor.