Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Kochs' pal Clarence Thomas hit by conflict of interest charge

If you were to identify a single cause of the massive protests surrounding statehouses in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio yesterday, it would be the Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision. A little over a year ago, the court, by a 5-4 majority, voted to allow corporations to secretly donate unlimited amounts of money to political candidates.

That allowed reactionary billionaires and CEOs like the Koch brothers to open the spigot. Hundreds of millions of dollars funded anti-worker politicians whose intent, once in office, was to weaken unions, fatten corporate profits and destabilize working families by lowering wages and benefits. The Kochs' front group, Americans for Prosperity, alone spent $40 million on the November 2010 elections. Many of the corporate stooges won -- John Kasich in Ohio, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Scott in Florida.

Once they were sworn in, the inevitable attacks on the middle class escalated. Now, anti-worker bills are being rammed through legislatures over the massive, but peaceful, protests of middle-class Americans.

None of this would be happening if the Supreme Court had ruled the other way on Citizens United. The good government group Common Cause is raising serious questions about the Koch brothers' undue influence on two Supreme Court justices: Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Both attended the Kochs' annual billionaires' retreat to plot political attacks on working families.

It's Thomas who is drawing the most scrutiny. As Alternet reports,
...When questions were first raised about the retreat last month, a court spokeswoman said Justice Thomas had made a "brief drop-by" at the event in Palm Springs, Calif., in January 2008 and had given a talk.

In his financial disclosure report for that year, however, Justice Thomas reported that the Federalist Society, a prominent conservative legal group, had reimbursed him an undisclosed amount for four days of "transportation, meals and accommodations" over the weekend of the retreat.

The event in question was organized by the right-wing Koch Brothers...the fact that he's offered competing versions of events about this retreat matter. Indeed, in this case, Thomas attended an event where powerful conservatives discussed strategies for overturning campaign finance laws. This was soon followed by Thomas participating in a case related to campaign finance laws, and concluded with Thomas ruling to overturn campaign finance laws, giving the Koch Brothers considerably more political power.
Common Cause sent a letter to the Supreme Court Monday asking for clarification about whether Thomas spent four days at the luxury resort where the retreat was held or whether he just dropped by.
Common Cause asked the Department of Justice last month to review the participation of Justices Thomas and Antonin Scalia in the landmark campaign finance case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in light of reports that both jurists attended political strategy and fundraising "seminars" hosted by Koch, the nation's second-largest privately held corporation.
The justices' association with the Koch events may be grounds for a new hearing in Citizens United, with Thomas and Scalia recused from participation, Common Cause suggested.
Maybe, just maybe, there's hope for us all yet.