President Obama Was Right and Justice Alito Was Wrong

As the Washington Post reported, the indictment against Rudy Giuliani’s Ukraine-connected buddies, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, reads:

Parnas, Fruman and other defendants “conspired to circumvent the federal laws against foreign influence by engaging in a scheme to funnel foreign money to candidates for federal and state office so that the defendants could buy potential influence with the candidates, campaigns, and the candidates’ governments.”

E.J. Dionne suggests that the indictment is worth reading in its totality as “a road map to how the system can be gamed” after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

Trevor Potter, the [Campaign Legal Center’s] president, said in an interview that his group noticed a May 17, 2018, contribution of $325,000 from a limited liability corporation, Global Energy Producers (GEP) to America First Action, Inc., a pro-Trump super PAC. GEP seemed to have no real business purpose, and Potter and his colleagues suspected it was a shell company, which is what it turned out to be. The indictment charges that Parnas, Fruman and two other defendants used GEP to make political donations funded by an unidentified Russian businessman.

In the Citizens United ruling, a majority on the Supreme Court ruled that money equals speech, and therefore, the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures by corporations and associations. It would be interesting to know whether they envisioned that the First Amendment protected the free speech rights of unidentified Russian businessmen.

Here is how Dionne concludes.

It is a supreme irony that Trump triumphed by exploiting public disaffection with a political system so many Americans see as infested with sleaze and controlled by forces operating entirely for their own benefit.

Rather than being the cure for such maladies, he is their apotheosis, the culmination of all that has gone wrong in our politics. The task of the impeachment inquiry is to use his Ukrainian misadventure to bring home the breadth of the president’s venality and self-dealing. The goal should be not only to rid the country of a dangerous leader but also to show how desperately our system needs repair.

Back in 2010, just a few months after the ruling in the Citizens United case was released, President Obama took the unprecedented step of criticizing a Supreme Court decision during his state of the union speech. By saying, “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by…foreign entities,” he was prescient in a way that few people understood at the time.

Obama’s statement triggered the now-famous head shake from Justice Samuel Alito. Looking back, we can now determine who was right and who was wrong about all of that.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.