Sunday, May 01, 2016

New York Values-- Zephyr Teachout vs A Culture Of Corruption


Over the weekend Zephyr Teachout, the Blue America backed congressional candidate for the open blue-leaning seat in the Hudson Valley and Catskills (NY-19), made news twice. First came the announcement that, with no cooperation from a hostile DCCC she raised $418,000 in April, primarily from small grassroots donors who find her values-based, issues-oriented campaign appealing. She had already raised $530,733 by March 31, so she's closing in on a million dollars raised.

This turns the DCCC model on it's head in every way. Obama won this district against McCain 53-45% and then won it again in 2012 against Romney, 52-46%. The DCCC knows she's going to win this Republican-held seat and they're distraught over it. If Nancy Pelosi was worth a tenth of what the old Nancy Pelosi was worth, she'd go in there with a broom and clean the whole building out and start from scratch. But she's not... and she won't.

This was facilitated by an e-mail-- just one-- that Bernie sent out to his supporters in April, asking them to consider contributing to Teachout's campaign. "When we talk about a political revolution," he wrote, "we also need to have people in Congress who aren't beholden to special interests. That's why I want you to meet Zephyr Teachout, who's running for Congress in New York as a Democrat. Zephyr literally wrote the book on political corruption. She understands better than anybody how special interests try to buy off politicians, and she's dedicated her life to fixing our broken political system. Zephyr is exactly the kind of person I'd want in Congress when I'm president... Zephyr's not just against fracking-- she worked hand-in-hand with anti-fracking activists to help stop it in New York State. She's not just against political corruption-- she's led organizations to fight the influence of money in politics and to break up the banks too. And now that she's running for Congress, she's doing it with a grassroots movement, with more than 10,000 donors to her campaign in just a few months. Zephyr is the real deal. Can you help her with a contribution?"

That beats the DCCC model which dictates that candidates sell their souls to fat cats for maxed out contributions. That Zephyr can succeed this way drives party bosses like Israel, Schumer, Crowley and Hoyer to distraction. They refuse to put her or even the district on their Red to Blue page, which is primarily reserved for corrupt conservatives like Monica Vernon (IA), Randall Perkins (FL), Pete Gallego (TX), Josh Gottheimer (NJ), Lon Johnson (MI), Val Demings (FL), Bryan Caforio (CA), and Mike Derrick (NY).

The second news Zephyr made over the weekend was the OpEd she penned for the Virginian-Pilot, far from the Hudson Valley geographically but about a topic as important to people in her district as it is for the folks in Virginia: there's no such thing as a free Rolex.
This week, the Supreme Court heard McDonnell v. United States, the case of Bob McDonnell, the former governor of Virginia who is appealing his 2014 conviction for public corruption. Although the court’s ruling is not expected until June, in Wednesday’s hearing several justices seemed set on undermining a central, longstanding federal bribery principle: that officials should not accept cash or gifts in exchange for giving special treatment to a constituent.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer dismissed the idea that, in the absence of a strong limiting principle, federal law could criminalize a governor who accepted a private constituent’s payment in exchange for intervening with a constituent problem. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. expressed disbelief that an official requesting agency action on behalf of a big donor would be a problem. A majority seemed ready to defend pay-to-play as a fundamental feature of our constitutional system of government.

In September 2014, after a six-week trial, a federal jury convicted McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, on multiple counts of extortion under the Hobbs Act, a key statute against political corruption, and honest-services fraud. It was not a complicated case. Jonnie Williams Sr., the chief executive of a dietary supplement manufacturer, Star Scientific, had showered the governor and first lady with gifts in return for favors.

We’re not talking about a few ham sandwiches. The McDonnells took expensive vacations, a Rolex, a $20,000 shopping spree, $15,000 in catering expenses for a daughter’s wedding and tens of thousands of dollars in private loans. In exchange, the governor eagerly promoted Williams’ product, a supplement called Anatabloc: hosting an event at the governor’s mansion, passing out samples and encouraging universities to do research.

There was ample evidence of connection between the favors and the governor’s actions. In one instance, McDonnell emailed Williams asking about a $50,000 loan, and six minutes later sent another email to his staff, requesting an update on Anatabloc scientific research. For the jury, that was more than enough to find McDonnell guilty.

The former governor has claimed on appeal that he had a First Amendment right to accept these gifts. He also disputed that holding meetings, hosting events at the governor’s mansion and recommending research were “official acts.” There were quids, he argued, but no quos.

The justices seem poised to agree. To overturn the McDonnells’ convictions, however, would also overturn more than 700 years of history, make bad law and leave citizens facing a crisis of political corruption with even fewer tools to fight it.

The legal principles involved date from England’s Statute of Westminster of 1275, which said that no officer of the king should take any payment for his public duties except what was owed by the monarch.

As modern corruption law developed, the axiom that an official shouldn’t accept gifts for public duties, broadly understood, was a basic feature of American law. The Supreme Court has held that under the Hobbs Act, “the Government need only show that a public official has obtained a payment to which he was not entitled, knowing that the payment was made in return for official acts.”

Otherwise, only the most unsophisticated criminal would ever get caught. A clumsy influence seeker might write an email offering “five diamonds for five votes in Congress,” but the powerful corrupting forces in our society would avoid explicit deals and give lavish gifts tied to meetings and speeches, winking and nodding all the while.

In its Citizens United ruling, the court gutted campaign finance laws. It acknowledged that American politics faced the threat of gift-givers and donors trying to corrupt the system, but it held that campaign finance laws were the wrong way to deal with that problem; bribery laws were the better path. Now, though, the court seems ready to gut bribery laws, saying that campaign finance laws provide a better approach. But if both campaign finance laws and bribery laws are now regarded as problematic, what’s left?

At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the framers devoted themselves to building a system that would be safe from moneyed influence.

“If we do not provide against corruption,” argued Virginia delegate George Mason, “our government will soon be at an end.”

Today, Virginia’s former governor proposes that there is a “fundamental constitutional right” to buy and sell access. If the court finds in his favor, it will have turned corruption from a wrong into a right.
Americans are sick and tired of corrupt elites leading society. Let's make sure we elect Zephyr Teachout to Congress, first in her June 28 primary and then in November when she'll be up against either Andrew Heaney or John Faso, each of whom has raised around double what she's raised.
Goal Thermometer

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