Thursday, September 26, 2013

Paying for Campaigns, Legally or Not

An odd confluence of news today -- my old friend Ben Suarez of Canton, Ohio, was indicted for campaign finance violations at almost the same time Elizabeth Warren and legal scholar Larry Lessig were discussing an upcoming Supreme Court case that would make Suarez's actions -- get this -- legal.

You may remember my earlier mention of how Suarez was being investigated by the FBI for funneling money through his employees to make contributions to his favored House and Senate candidates. Somehow, his employees who live in $140,000 homes were able to make $20,000 annual contributions.

Well, the FBI decided there was indeed enough evidence to charge him. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer,

The 35-page indictment charges Suarez, 72, with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government; conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws; violation of campaign finance laws contributions by a corporation; making false statements, obstruction of an official investigation; witness tampering; and obstruction of justice. The indictment also charges Michael Giorgio, 61, of Cuyahoga Falls, the chief financial officer …with assisting Suarez in writing large campaign checks in the names of employees and their wives in an effort to "disguise and conceal from the public and from federal agents" the true source of the illegal contributions.
Where do Warren and Lessig fit into this? Well, it turns out they were almost simultaneously speaking about the upcoming McCutcheon v. FEC case, which could completely do away with all limits on individual contributions to politicians. A kind of Citizens United for actual citizens, I guess some would say. The link provides an overview and an hour of them speaking on video. Warren starts speaking at about the 9:00 minute mark, with Lessig starting at about 17:30.

Lessig is discussing his recent research, which will be entered as an amicus brief in McCutcheon. It's a textual analysis of the Constitution's authors, finding the Founders cared not just about quid pro quo corruption (the classic idea of the bribed politician) but also about the corrupting influence of group power and money. As Lessig says, he's attempting to supply the originalists like Scalia with a smoking gun of original intent, rather than taking the usual progressive argument that the Constitution is a living document.

I found Lessig's facts and argument pretty convincing, of course. Let's hope the Supreme Court does too, or Ben Suarez will be able to give all the money he wants without using his employees to do it.


My first post about the wonderful world of Ben Suarez.

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