Friday, February 18, 2011

Clarence Thomas - Colbert Report

On February 17th, The Colbert Report covered several stories about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Before the Citizens United ruling, Thomas attended a retreat hosted by the wealthy Koch Brothers. Bradley Smith, the conservative former FEC chairman who came to Brown University in September, argued that attending the retreat didn't influence Thomas' vote because Thomas has consistently opposed restrictive campaign finance laws. Colbert then insightfully commented that the retreat wasn't a bribe; it was a reward. Colbert's joke is particularly great because it reveals how corporations influence politics in a post-Citizens United world.

Corporations interact with politicians in two ways. The first is a direct bribe: "If you change your vote on this bill, we'll continue to help you win elections." This is a very straightforward quid-pro-quo, but there is little direct evidence to show how often it happens. The second method is a reverse bribe: "If you don't change your vote on this bill, we'll help someone else win the election." This threat of a "negative advertising blitz" may even be legal.

Colbert's joke warns us that there is actually a third way corporations interact with politicians, and the 2010 midterm elections speak volumes for it. Corporate money seeks out candidates who will always cooperate, and if a friendly politician is already in office, a corporation will do whatever it takes to keep him there. These politicians don't need to be bribed; they only expect to be rewarded. Although bribes have always been kept out of the public's sight, only since Citizens United has corporate spending been given the same power of secrecy.

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