Chief Justice John Roberts, just the other day (McCutcheon v. FEC): “We have said that government regulation may not target the general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford. ‘Ingratiation and access…are not corruption’ [quoting the 2010 Citizens United opinion].”
Benjamin Franklin, Speech at the Constitutional Convention on the Subject of Salaries, June 2, 1787: “Sir, there are two Passions which have a powerful Influence in the Affairs of Men. These are Ambition and Avarice; the Love of Power and the Love of Money. Separately, each of these has great Force in prompting Men to Action; but when united in View of the same Object, they have in many Minds the most violent Effects. Place before the Eyes of such Men a Post of Honour, that shall at the same time be a Place of Profit, and they will move Heaven and Earth to obtain it….And of what kind are the men that will strive for this profitable Preeminence, thro’ all the Bustle of Cabal, the Heat of Contention, the infinite mutual abuse of Parties, tearing to Pieces the best of Characters? It will not be the wise and moderate, the Lovers of Peace and good Order… It will be the Bold and the Violent, the men of strong Passions and indefatigable Activity in their selfish Pursuits. These will thrust themselves into your Government, and be your Rulers. And these, too, will be mistaken in the expected Happiness of their Situation; for their vanquish’d competitors, of the same Spirit, and from the same Motives, will perpetually be endeavouring to distress their Administration, thwart their Measures, and render them odious to the People.”
Some people seem to think Putin and Roberts are strong leaders. If they are really strong leaders, why do they seem to be so afraid of fighting corruption in their societies?
Putin’s invasion and annexation of Crimea was opportunistic, taking advantage of a chaotic situation in Ukraine and seemingly taking western Europeans and Americans by surprise. But some commentators believe his goal was to distract his own domestic audience in Russia from economic failures due primarily to endemic corruption, most visibly on the Sochi Olympic project. However accurate that explanation, in the longer view Putin has not succeeded in modernizing Russia’s economy, particularly in reducing the deadweight losses from corruption.
John Roberts, likewise, seems a shrewd operator, but one wonders how well his opinion in McCutcheon, the latest campaign finance case, will wear with a little age. As Zephyr Teachout of Fordham Law School has written (see her downloadable SSRN papers on corruption, especially “The Anti-Corruption Principle”) corruption for the Framers and Founders was by no means limited to outright bribery. Corruption depends on concentration of power, anti-corruption on dispersal of power–thus the crucial constitutional principles of “separation of powers” and “checks and balances.” She argues persuasively that for anyone even mildly committed to fidelity to the original understandings of the Consitution, “anti-corruption” is a freestanding principle that can and sometimes ought to limit and constrain the application of other cardinal constitutional principles, even First Amendment principles such as free speech. James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and George Mason are likely turning in their graves over Roberts’ latest “what? me worry” pro-corruption judicial opinion. Is John Roberts wiser than the Founders?
The McCutcheon plurality opinion Chief Justice Roberts read out at the Supreme Court yesterday does not remove all limits on political corruption in this country. All in good time, my little pretty. Our little party’s just beginning. You think we have defined corruption down today (hat tip to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Defining Deviancy Down”)? You just wait. You think they have oligarchs in Putin’s Russia? We’ll show them who’s exceptional, and what oligarchy is really all about!
P.S. I could go into the details, but that would only dignify an opinion that is either clueless or unscrupulous or utterly un-conservative, or all three.