The Rape Myth Problem Within the Judicial System

You probably have heard this before:
“She asked for it.” “She didn’t say no.” “She really meant ‘yes’ when she said ‘no.’” “She looks older than her chronological age.” “She [a minor] was as much in control of the situation as the defendant [her teacher when he raped her].” “Well, you know, this wasn’t this forcible, beat-up type rape.” “Even though she was drunk, she consented and knew what she was doing.” “Well boys will be boys; what else would you expect?” “She just ‘cried’ rape.” “It didn’t happen. She’s lying ‘cause she wants revenge.” “She could have prevented it if she… had only tried hard enough… had fought back more… etc.” These are all rape myth statements that have been heard in the courtroom as well as out in the public arena.
The flowing article was written by me for Pennsylvania NOW on their website.
This article gives an overview of problems in the judicial system when judges and others rely on this form of gender bias in their courtroom. Pennsylvania NOW posted the original of this article on August 31 and Central Oregon Coast NOW reblogged it. Thanks everyone for spreading the word about this problem and showing others what can be done to push back on this form of misogyny in the judiciary.

Central Oregon Coast NOW

stop_rape_by_cloud_a_day_stock-d4aya5m

“She asked for it.” “She didn’t say no.” “She really meant ‘yes’ when she said ‘no.’” “She looks older than her chronological age.” “She [a minor] was as much in control of the situation as the defendant [her teacher when he raped her].” “Well, you know, this wasn’t this forcible, beat-up type rape.” “Even though she was drunk, she consented and knew what she was doing.” “Well boys will be boys; what else would you expect?” “She just ‘cried’ rape.” “It didn’t happen. She’s lying ‘cause she wants revenge.” “She could have prevented it if she… had only tried hard enough… had fought back more… etc.”

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Censure and Suspension of Judge Baugh

Stop Violence Against Women NOW diamond

Stop Violence Against Women NOW

The Montana Supreme Court has just handed down their decision on the ethics complaints filed against Judge G. Todd Baugh in his mishandling of the rape case against Stacey Rambold. This is the case where Judge Baugh sentenced ex-teacher Stacey Rambold to thirty days in jail for raping one of his 14-year-old students.

In explaining this slap-on-the-wrist sentence, Baugh used several rape myths that showed gender and racial bias against Cherise Morales—the 14 year old, Hispanic girl whom Rambold raped. During the sentencing hearing, Baugh stated that the girl was “as much in control of the situation” as her rapist and that she was “older than her chronological age.” There were a total of eight verified complaints submitted to the Montana Judicial Standards Commission as a result of Judge Baugh’s actions; one of these complaints was filed by Montana NOW and Pennsylvania NOW (see our complaint here and blog summarizing our complaint here).

On April 30, the Montana Supreme Court vacated Rambold’s minimal sentence, largely based on the amicus brief we filed with the court. They remanded the Rambold case back to Yellowstone County District Court. Yesterday they denied Rambold’s request to reconsider. The new sentence will be imposed by the District Court by the end of this month.

Meanwhile, the Court has now followed up on their intent to censure Judge Baugh. Their intent to censure was originally announced in the April 30 decision in the Rambold case. In that opinion, the Court said of Baugh’s behavior:

In the present case, Judge Baugh’s statements reflected an improper basis for his decision and cast serious doubt on the appearance of justice. The idea that C.M. could have “control” of the situation is directly at odds with the law, which holds that a youth is incapable of consent and, therefore, lacks any control over the situation whatsoever. That statement also disregards the serious power disparity that exists between an adult teacher and his minor pupil. In addition, there is no basis in the law for the court’s distinction between the victim’s “chronological age” and the court’s perception of her maturity. Judge Baugh’s comments have given rise to several complaints before the Judicial Standards Commission, which has recommended disciplinary action by this Court. Those complaints will be addressed in a separate proceeding.

In their 4-1 decision today censuring Baugh, the Court indicated that Judge Baugh violated the “Promoting Confidence in the Judiciary” canon.

Here’s a copy of the full decision. Judicial Standards Commission v Judge G Todd Baugh decision 6-4-2014

And here’s an excerpt from that decision:

Violation of Rule 1.2: Promoting public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary and avoiding impropriety or the appearance of impropriety

Baugh’s comments in open court in this case disregarded longstanding Montana law that a person under the age of 16 is legally incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse. His assertion that the victim was “older than her chronological age” is inconsistent with Montana law categorizing child victims of sexual offenses based on their chronological age     alone, rather than on subjective perceptions of physical maturity and situational control. In addition, Judge Baugh’s later attempt to retract his sentence and rationale was inconsistent with Montana law. Finally, Judge Baugh made additional inappropriate public statements attempting to justify his actions. Through his unlawful sentence, inappropriate rationale, and subsequent public comments, Judge Baugh has eroded public confidence in the judiciary and created an appearance of impropriety, therefore violating the Montana Code of Judicial Conduct….

There is no place in the Montana judiciary for perpetuating the stereotype that women and girls are responsible for sexual crimes committed against them [emphasis added].

Censure and Suspension

The Court has given Judge Baugh until June 19 to respond to their proposed suspension since he only agreed to public censure on violating this rule. If he does not withdraw his consent to discipline by that date, he will be required to appear before the Montana Supreme Court at 9:30 am on Monday July 1, 2014 for the delivery of public censure by the Court. Then on December 1, 2014, he will be given a 31-day suspension without pay from the bench, thus losing the last month’s pay of his salary before he retires. If he does withdraw his consent for censure, the case will be returned to the Montana Judicial Standards Commission for a formal proceeding.

I suspect that Judge Baugh will accept the censure and suspension. Rumor has it that Judge Baugh is considering stepping down from the bench on July 1 due to the general belief that he cannot fairly rule from the bench because of the public censure. If true, the only effect of the 31-day suspension will be a loss of one month’s salary based on his earlier announcement that he would retire from the bench on December 31.

And as a final food for thought… this 31-day suspension / “sentence” seems to me to be very similar to the 31-day sentence imposed by Judge Baugh on Stacey Rambold for raping a 14-year old. Did the Court have this in mind when they decided on the length of the suspension? Is this Tit for Tat for his use of rape myths? Who knows?

Seeking Justice for Cherise

In August 2013, Yellowstone County (Billings), Montana Judge G. Todd Baugh sentenced ex-teacher Stacey Rambold to thirty days in jail for raping one of his 14-year-old students . Baugh had followed a recommendation from Rambold’s lawyer by giving Rambold a sentence of 15 years in prison with all but 31 days suspended and a one day credit for time served. Even worse, the judge showed gender and racial bias against Cherise Morales—the 14 year old, Hispanic girl who Rambold raped. During the sentencing hearing, Baugh stated that  the girl was “as much in control of the situation” as her rapist and that she was “older than her chronological age.”

Upon hearing about this incident, Joanne Tosti-Vasey, former PA NOW president and current member of the PA NOW Executive Committee contacted Montana NOW President Marian Bradley. After consulting with each other, Montana NOW and Pennsylvania NOW decided to coordinate a state and national action to push back against this egregious behavior and use of rape myths.

We focused on both the unethical behavior of Judge Baugh and on working to overturn the illegal sentence handed down on Rambold.

The Ethics Complaint Against Judge Baugh

First, we focused on a petition to sanction Judge Baugh. The first step was to help get a groundswell of people calling for the Montana Judicial Standards Commission to review and sanction Judge Baugh for his behavior. Working with We are Ultraviolet and Fitzgibbon Media we gathered over 130,000 signatures calling for the state to sanction Judge Baugh. Meanwhile we contacted Legal Momentum (a national women’s advocacy organization that houses the National Judicial Education Program on Gender Bias in the Courts) and Pennsylvania’s Women’s Law Project to assist us in crafting our complaint.

Marian Bradley standing next to the boxes of signed petitions calling for the removal of Judge G. Todd Baugh from the bench.

Marian Bradley, President of Montana NOW delivering the NOW complaint to the MT Judicial Standards Commission on September 24, 2013.

Using these petition signatures, we publicly delivered our complaint on September 24, 2013 against Baugh urging the Montana Judicial Standards Commission and the Montana Supreme Court to

  • Remove Judge Baugh from the bench for his misconduct related to his handling of and speech about the rape case involving the sentencing of Stacey Rambold; and
  • Implement a mandatory judicial education program for the judiciary on the fair adjudication of sexual assault cases to help the Montana justice system develop techniques to minimize victim re-traumatization while safeguarding the rights of the defendant.

As a result of this complaint and several others, Judge Baugh acknowledged on December 7, 2013 that he violated one of the three ethics rules we alleged he had violated. He said that he had failed to “promote public confidence in the independence, integrity,and impartiality of the judiciary,” and did not “avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.” But he refused to acknowledge that  he used racial and gender bias in handing down the sentence and as a result, did not uphold the law. So we submitted a response detailing the rape myths he used in creating the sentence and in not following the law with the minimum, mandatory two-year sentence.

Then Baugh, in an effort to avoid the sanctions he could see coming, announced in January that he would not be seeking reelection in 2014. A couple of weeks after this announcement, the Montana Judicial Standards Commission announced that they were sending a recommendation to the Montana Supreme Court to use their oversight powers to sanction Judge Baugh.

The Amicus Brief

Meanwhile, on December 6, 2013, the Montana Attorney General’s office filed an appeal before the Montana Supreme Court. They are asking the court to remand the case back to the Yellowstone County District Court for sentencing that would follow the state law’s mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.  They are asking for, at minimum, a four-year sentence.

NOW once again weighed in. Knowing that it is possible for advocacy groups to file “friend of the court” amicus curiae briefs, we contacted two members of our network of women’s legal advocacy organizations—The Women’s Law Project and Legal Momentum—to see if there was any interest in pursuing this amicus.  They put us in contact with Legal Voice and the Sexual Violence Law Center. Both of these organizations are based in Seattle, Washington and serve women in Montana.  As a result, all six organizations agreed to file an amicus.Attorney Vanessa Soriano Power and other members of the law firm Stoel Rives LLP took the lead in writing our brief and petitioning the Court to add our brief to their review of this case.

Montana’s Supreme Court rarely accepts amicus briefs, but did in this case. The amicus brief we filed focuses on rape myths and their inappropriate impact in adjudicating and sentencing in sexual-assault cases.  We are asking the court to take the effect of these types of myths into account when making their decision in this case and, upon remand, to assign the case of Stacey Rambold to a new judge for appropriate and legal re-sentencing.

What’s Happening Now?

Both cases were sent to the Montana Supreme Court for review. We heard on April 25 (the 10th anniversary of the March for Women’s Lives in Washington DC that brought out over one million people) that the decisions on what type of sanctioning Judge Baugh will receive and whether or not Stacey Rambold will be re-sentenced is pending.

This morning, the Montana Supreme Court handed down their decision in the Montana v. Rambold case (copy of the opinion can be seen here). The Court listened to the arguments presented by both the Attorney General’s office and by NOW. They overturned (“vacated”) the 30-day sentence and remanded the case back to the Yellowstone County Courts for re-sentencing in line with the minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines. In addition, they have ordered the county to assign the case to another judge for Rambold’s re-sentencing.

The last two paragraphs of the opinion indicate that the Court heavily relied on our amicus in ordering the remand:

¶21 On remand for resentencing, we further instruct the court to reassign the case to a different judge to impose sentence. We have considered several factors to decide whether a new judge should be assigned to resentence a defendant in a particular case, among them; whether the original judge would reasonably be expected to have substantial difficulty in putting out of his or her mind previously-expressed views determined to be erroneous, whether reassignment is advisable to preserve the appearance of justice, and whether reassignment would entail waste and duplication out of proportion to any gain in preserving the appearance of fairness. Coleman v. Risley, 203 Mont. 237, 249, 663 P.2d 1154 (1983) 10 (citations omitted). In State v. Smith, 261 Mont. 419, 445-46, 863 P.2d 1000, 1016-17 (1993), we remanded for resentencing to a new judge when the judge’s statement at trial evidenced bias against the defendant. Even where bias did not require reassignment to a new judge, we have reassigned where media coverage and public outrage “have snowballed to create an appearance of impropriety.” Washington v. Montana Mining Properties, 243 Mont. 509, 516, 795 P.2d 460, 464 (1990).

¶22 In the present case, Judge Baugh’s statements reflected an improper basis for his decision and cast serious doubt on the appearance of justice. The idea that C.M. could have “control” of the situation is directly at odds with the law, which holds that a youth is incapable of consent and, therefore, lacks any control over the situation whatsoever. That statement also disregards the serious power disparity that exists between an adult teacher and his minor pupil. In addition, there is no basis in the law for the court’s distinction between the victim’s “chronological age” and the court’s perception of her maturity. Judge Baugh’s comments have given rise to several complaints before the Judicial Standards Commission, which has recommended disciplinary action by this Court. Those complaints will be addressed in a separate proceeding. Under these circumstances, we conclude that reassignment to a new judge is necessary to preserve the appearance of fairness and justice in this matter.

Meanwhile the sanctions against Judge Baugh are still pending. This was confirmed in this morning’s opinion announced by the Montana Supreme Court: Judge Baugh’s comments have given rise to several complaints before the Judicial Standards Commission, which has recommended disciplinary action by this Court. Those complaints will be addressed in a separate proceeding.

We feel strongly that our work on this case shows our commitment to looking out for the women, children and families of our states and our nation. This behavior by our teachers and our judiciary should not and will not be tolerated. Our vigilance will continue.

— blog written by Joanne Tosti-Vasey and Marian Bradley

Montana and Pennsylvania NOW Respond to Judge G. Todd Baugh

On September 24, 2013, Montana NOW and Pennsylvania NOW submitted a complaint about Judge G. Todd Baugh to the Montana Judicial Standards Commission.  In my capacity as a member of the Executive Committee of Pennsylvania NOW, I worked with Marian Bradley, President of Montana NOW, to craft the original Complaint. You can read a summary of and public delivery of this complaint to the Commission here.

Marian Bradley standing next to the boxes of signed petitions calling for the removal of Judge G. Todd Baugh from the bench.

Marian Bradley, President of Montana NOW speaking at the delivery of the NOW complaint to the MT Judicial Commission.

Judge Baugh responded to our complaint on November 13, 2013.  The Commission sent us a copy of his response on November 19, 2013.  They gave us twenty days to review and advise the Commission on the factual accuracy of Judge Baugh’s response.    Our response was faxed to the Commission on Saturday morning, December 7, 2013.

In our initial Complaint, Montana NOW and Pennsylvania NOW alleged that Judge G. Todd Baugh violated the following three Ethics Rules:

  • Rule 1.2 says, “promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”
  • Rule 2.2 says, shall uphold and apply the law, and shall perform all duties of judicial office fairly and impartially.”
  • Rule 2.3 says, “shall not, in the performance of judicial duties, by words or conduct manifest bias or prejudice, or engage in harassment, including but not limited to bias, prejudice, or harassment based upon race, sex, gender, …socioeconomic status, …”

In his response to our Complaint (and in the press), Judge Baugh acknowledges that he violated Rule 1.2 but denies any violation of Rule 2.2 or 2.3.  We believe he is in error and continues to violate these two rules in addition to Rule 1.2. Judge Baugh claims in his response to our Complaint that he did not violate either Rule 2.2 or 2.3 because he “read” the materials presented to him. He then goes on to say, “Some phrases [of what I read] stuck in my mind, but it was inappropriate to repeat them.”

We reviewed his complaint and saw additional comments of continued disregard for the performance of his duties and bias in sexual assault cases. For example as just mentioned, Judge Baugh says that he now won’t repeat whatever it was that “stuck in his mind” but was “inappropriate” to repeat.  This along with many other statements during and after the sentencing trial, in the press, and in his response all point to error in his refusal to acknowledge his violation of all three ethics rules.

Our response directly supports our initial Complaint of the violation of Rules 1.2, 2.2, and 2.3 based upon Judge Baugh’s response. We added additional comments about this particular case. In addition, we included supporting information as to what other judges throughout the country have said in relation to adjudicating and sentencing in sexual assault cases in general.  We believe that this supporting commentary from fellow judges backs up our concerns about the mishandling of this case.

The following is a copy of the Response that we filed on Saturday

// FINAL PDF- Response to Baugh Complaint Response December 7_ 2013

We believe that Judge Baugh violated all three rules (1.2, 2.2, and 2.3).  He agrees with us that he violated Rule 1.2 in that he failed to promote public confidence and failed to avoid impropriety in his statement and minimal sentencing of Rambold.

We disagree completely in his refusal to acknowledge the violation of Rules 2.2 and 2.3.  He did NOT uphold and apply the law relating to the sexual assault of a minor.  He did not perform his duties fairly and impartially.  His words, his conduct throughout this case and in the media, and his response to our Complaint continue to show bias or prejudice based upon race, sex, gender, and socioeconomic status.

Judge Baugh’s statements and behavior need more than a letter of censure which he claims he was told by a member of the panel in October  that he would get.  Judge Baugh listened to the recommendations of the Defendant and not to the law.  Again, with his Response to our Complaint, Judge Baugh continues to show that he has no regard for the law in the area of sexual assaults of minors and thus believes that censure is the correct remedy for violating “only” one rule – Rule 1.2.  He takes no responsibility whatsoever for violating Rules 2.2 and 2.3.

Hopefully the Judicial Standards Commission will do the morally and legally right thing, find that he violated all three rules, and remove Judge G. Todd Bench from the bench. And if the case is remanded back to the local court by the Supreme Court for resentencing, we hope that this case will be given to another judge.

Special Report: IRS Scandal Shakes Washington (OR IS IT?)

I just read this blog by Michael J. Rosen about the extra scrutiny of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. I decided to repost his blog with three sets of comments. My comments give thought to three different sets of questions:

  1. What else besides what we’ve heard about might have helped lead to this “scandal?”
  2. Is it really a “scandal?” Do we know?
  3. Is this issue likely to go away soon?

What else might be behind this scandal?

Besides a lack of training and oversight that we’ve heard about, I think another part of this whole problem is the backlog of applications in the non-profit division of the IRS. I talked to them the other day about a non-profit I work with that is attempting to get its 501(c)4 status reinstated due to the 990-N issue. The agent I talked to said that they are getting over 5,000 applications every month and are working on them on a first come, first serve basis.

The IRS website says that with the small staff they have, there is an even greater backlog on applications than what the agent told me. Here’s that IRS statement.

“All [non-profit] applications are sent to the IRS Determinations Office in Cincinnati. This office receives approximately 70,000 applications for tax-exempt status of all kinds each year [that averages out to 5,833 new applicants each month]. This includes applications from section 501(c)(3) and section 501(c)(4) organizations. This office, which includes fewer than 200 people working directly on applications, is primarily responsible for working determination applications.”

The agent helped me to figure out the current status of this VERY SMALL non-profit that I’m working with (if it brings in $400/year for this group, it’s doing well). He told me that the records show that all of the paperwork at our end is basically complete, but the application won’t be reviewed until the office gets to the applications marked as “complete” as of September 2012 (when he says my group officially completed the paperwork). And, directing me to another section of the website, he pointed out that the office is currently working on applications from early May 2012 – i.e., over a 1 year delay in processing!

The aforementioned web page also goes into more detail, from the official IRS viewpoint, of what happened with the Tea Party organizations. It says that approximately 70 Tea Party groups were put into the in-depth “centralized” review; that out of a total of, currently, about 470 organizations being given similar treatment.

Is it a Scandal? Do We Really Know?

A scandal is defined as “a circumstance or action that offends propriety or established moral conceptions or disgraces those associated with it.” A political scandal is “an instance of government wrongdoing” that offends or disgraces those directly associated with that wrongdoing.
In this case, so far, it doesn’t appear to be a scandal that rises to the level of the White House. According to the Washington Post, based on increasing evidence, the IRS issue is very bad press for the Obama administration. According to their report,

If we believe the agency inspector general’s report, a group of employees in a division called the “Determinations Unit…” started giving tea party groups extra scrutiny, were told by agency leadership to knock it off, started doing it again, and then were reined in a second time and told that any further changes to the screening criteria needed to be approved at the highest levels of the agency.

The White House fired the acting director of the agency [this week] on the theory that somebody had to be fired and he was about the only guy they had the power to fire. They’re also instructing the IRS to implement each and every one of the IG’s recommendations to make sure this never happens again.

And from all the evidence obtained so far, there is no evidence of any connection between the “Determinations Unit” and the Obama administration. So unless there is a smoking gun hidden somewhere, there is no political scandal within the White House. Time will tell.

Is this issue likely to go away anytime soon?

No, I personally doubt that the issue will “go away” anytime soon.

Three reasons:

  1. partisan politics to continue attacking Obama’s executive branch;
  2. long history of spying and intrusiveness; and
  3. free-speech issues.

The first issue is purely partisan. Issues that Republicans think will make President Obama look bad are brought up again and again even when the public, to some extent (but not the base) has moved on. Has the Benghazi issue died? How many times will the Republican-dominated House vote to revoke Obamacare before they give up?

The second issue is spying and intrusiveness that, for the first time in a long time, concerns both sides of the aisle. There has been a long history of the feds, usually the FBI, targeting non-profits. Think of the Friends (Quakers) peace-related work for example or the Communist-baiting of the 1950s. Usually it’s the more progressive, left-leaning groups that are targeted. These groups have a long memory and I think may, in this case, support the concerns raised in this non-profit scrutiny case. And since there were progressive groups in this list of targeted non-profits, both sides have some ammunition to push back against the actions of the IRS.

The third is a First Amendment issue. Combine these IRS actions with the free press concerns over the Justice Department’s review of press reporters’ phone logs; both sides have screamed NO. What you have here are two different departments of the executive branch allegedly intruding on the First Amendment: one department—the IRS—may be attacking an individual’s free speech rights and another department—the Justice Department—may be attacking freedom of the press. Both protections are contained within the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

So no, based on all three routes of concern, I don’t think this issue will go away anytime soon.

Michael Rosen Says...

This week, the US Internal Revenue Service acknowledged and apologized for behavior that had long been rumored. The IRS improperly targeted for extra scrutiny conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

IRS logoThe IRS did not ultimately deny tax-exempt status to a single group receiving extra scrutiny. Some say this proves that the actions of the IRS were baseless.

The scandal has now shaken the nation’s capital:

President Barack Obama directed Jack Lew, Secretary of the Treasury, to request the resignation of Steven Miller, Acting IRS Commissioner.

Miller resigned and Lew accepted the resignation.

The Justice Department has initiated a criminal investigation.

Exercising its oversight responsibility, Congress has begun its own probe of the IRS scandal.

Obama addressed the nation on television saying, “It’s inexcusable and Americans are right to be angry about it and I am angry about it. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but particularly…

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Institutional Corruption and the Influence of Money and Politics on People’s Lives

Fountain Pen and SignThis morning, I was scanning Tweets that came into my Twitter account. One of the Tweets said,

“Why the phrase ‘Supreme Court to hear campaign-finance case’ should scare you.”

It contained a link to an article in the Daily Beast. This article said that the US Supreme Court has decided to take another look at campaign financing in a case from the United States District Court in DC called McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. I read the article.

And yes this case scares me. McCutcheon argues that there should be no limits at all on campaign financing.  It scares me because I believe that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of McCutchen, there will be more influence and therefore more institutional corruption on our public policy.  This will then allow the creation of more holes in the safety net for people’s lives due to the corrupting influence of big money. For clarification, institutional corruption is defined as:

[T]he consequence of an influence within an economy of influence that illegitimately weakens the effectiveness of an institution especially by weakening the public trust of the institution.

Why? Because I do not trust the members of the current Supreme Court to openly and fairly take into account that elected officials need to answer to their constituents and not to the people and companies and lobbyists that influence them by throwing lots of money and offering consulting jobs to these elected officials (a form of “money”) once they leave office.

My mistrust results from their decision in the 2009 Citizens’ United case.  They held that the First Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits the government from restricting independent political campaign expenditures from corporations and unions.  The aftermath of this decision has been devastating. Immediately after this decision, the DC Circuit Court (which handles cases involving federal regulations) ruled that

“individuals could make unlimited contributions to so-called Super PACs, which supported individual candidates.”

And what did we see?  In the 2010 elections, Super PACs—mostly funded by the mega-rich—assisted conservative Tea Party candidates at all levels of government to win seats that they would not have otherwise been able to win.  This resulted in a lot of gerrymandering around the country for the incumbents’ self-interest.  And in 2012, $6.2 billion was spent on elections; over $10 million of these funds were given to a small number of Super Pacs by a very small number of mega-wealthy individuals—including the Koch brothers—to influence the outcome of the elections.

If this case overturns what few limits on campaign financing are left, the doors for institutional corruption will be thrown wide open.  Candidates will spend even more time chasing money, mostly soliciting funds from large, non-constituent individuals and corporations.  Most of these individuals are heads of corporations whose special interest is their bottom-line profits and not the interests of the “47%.”

Fred Wertheimer is President of Democracy 21. It is a non-partisan group that works to eliminate the undue influence of big money in the public arena.  He agrees with me that big money corrupts our public institutions. In a press statement on February 19, he said that the

“[A]ggregate limit on contributions by individuals is necessary to prevent circumvention of the limits on contributions to candidates and political parties and the prohibition on federal officeholders soliciting huge corrupting contributions.”

And further, if the Supreme Court either completely guts or weakens campaign financing, this decision

“…would open the door to $1 million and $2 million dollar contributions from an individual buying corrupting influence with a powerful officeholder soliciting these contributions, and with the political party and federal candidates benefiting from these seven figure contributions.”

I believe that it is the local constituent who should be influencing their representatives.  Not corporations. Not big money. And not the 1% at the top of the income ladder who do not live or experience the lives of the people who live in each of our communities.

I am one of the 85% of Americans who view Congress unfavorably because of what they have NOT been doing for people’s lives. Like allowing funds for critical domestic programs to be cut due to the budgetary stalling and delays of the Fiscal Cliff and Hurricane Sandy debates and resulting Sequestration that now looks like it will become reality this coming Friday. Like delaying passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) from being reauthorized for over two years (which, may change tomorrow when and if the House FINALLY votes on the Senate-passed VAWA Act of 2013).  Like talking about but not taking any comprehensive action, so far, to deal with violence and gun safety (for more information on this gun safety issue, read my blogs here and here).

No, I don’t trust the US Supreme Court.  And no, I do not trust Congress. All because of the influence of money on the decisions the do and do not make.

Institutional Corruption is a problem.  We need to reduce that corruption.  We need to empower the small donors.  New York City, as well as Los Angeles and San Francisco have done this.  And in a plan put together by Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and Democracy 21, we could do the same thing as well across the country. Look at the plan and then lobby your legislator, even if you don’t trust him or her. Vote for candidates in the future who pledge to listen to their constituents and not to big money.

This will take a long time.  But it is necessary. Then and only then do I believe that we can and will be able to trust our elected officials to truly represent us and our concerns.

For More Information on Institutional Corruption

For more information, watch the video below. In this 2009 presentation, Lawrence Lessig defines institutional corruption.  He then discusses the probable effects of this undue influence of money (broadly defined) not only on elected officials but its effect on other institutions, such as the EPA and medical research.