Could be most monumental proceedings since Watergate, expose illegalities of plutocratic 'war on democracy,' catapult movement to amend the Constitution after 'Citizens United'...
By Ernest A. Canning on 11/18/2012, 1:42pm PT  

Lisa Graves, of The Center for Media and Democracy [CMD], is "asking citizens to contact their Senator and demand hearings on the way 'dark money' has stealthily influenced the election." The CMD's proposal includes a specific demand that Charles and David Koch be subpoenaed to testify --- something which, Graves explains, the oil and chemical magnate brothers evaded some 15 years ago when U.S. Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) blocked efforts to force them to testify about their use of front groups to influence elections.

Unlike the GOP, whose calls for "Watergate-style" Benghazi hearings have been described as "political theater," the incoming 55-member Senate Democratic Caucus is in a position to conduct a broad and thorough set of hearings that could expose the ever-present threat to the very survival of democratic governance by what former Vice President Henry A. Wallace described as "the American fascist."

Coming within the context of near universal opposition to the flood of corporate money that drown out the voices of ordinary citizens, such hearings could also serve to catapult growing calls to not only overturn the infamous Citizens United decision but to end the concept of "corporate personhood" and establish that money is not "free speech."

The United States Senate has not been in a position to conduct hearings of such monumental import since Sen. Sam Ervin (D-SC) chaired the Senate Select Committee to Investigate Campaign Practices aka the Senate Watergate Committee...

Catapulting the Amendment Process

The CMD call for "dark money" U.S. Senate hearings comes at a time when there is near universal revulsion towards corporate political spending. As observed by Liz Kennedy at Demos:

• Eight out of 10 Americans (84%) agree that corporate political spending drowns out the voices of average Americans and nearly half strongly agree.

• Eight out of 10 (83%) believe that corporations and corporate CEOs have too much political power and influence.

• Eight out of 10 Americans agree that corporate political spending has made federal politics more negative (83%) and that it makes Congress more corrupt (84%). The same is true at the state level, where nearly 8 out of 10 Americans agree that corporate political spending makes state politics more negative (80%) and more corrupt (78%).

This overwhelming public sentiment has experienced growing support from elected representatives. Some 316 towns, cities and counties have now passed resolutions calling for a Constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United, many seeking an end to corporate personhood and a provision establishing that money does not amount to "free speech." President Barack Obama openly called for "mobilizing a Constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United," and on Oct. 18, New Jersey became the 9th state to formally call for a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

As CMD's Graves appropriately observed, the standard for conducting Senate Hearings and issuing subpoenas to the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, Sheldon Adelson and a host of other plutocrats is not governed by whether there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed. The standard pertains to information needed for the U.S. Senate to perform its legislative function --- here identified both by consideration of either an act compelling disclosure or one of the several resolutions now pending before the Senate for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

American fascists, criminals or both?

In 1973, Sen. Ervin's adroitly conducted Watergate hearings exposed wide-ranging illegality, such as the break-in at the office of whistle-blower Daniel Elsberg psychiatrist's office by the White House "plumbers", in addition to an illegal cover-up that, together with passage of impeachment resolutions by the U.S. House of Representatives, ultimately forced President Richard Nixon to resign.

The landmark hearings essentially exposed an abuse of power within the U.S. government. The proposed Senate "dark money" hearings, however, have the potential not only to expose the machinations of those behind the corrupting flood of corporate money, but the potential to shine a light on who is attempting to fund and control our political system. "Dark money" hearings could help explain to the American people why those behind the flood of corporate cash pose such a serious threat to democracy and the rule of law.

While the "who" is by no means limited to Charles and David Koch, as we previously observed, it is difficult to imagine a more apt example than the Koch brothers for who then V.P. Henry Wallace had in mind when describing the "American fascist" in his April 9, 1944 New York Times op ed:

The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money and more power.

They claim to be superpatriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjugation.

When, in 2011, Brad Friedman broke the previously untold story about the gathering of wealthy plutocrats at the Koch brothers' Secret Summer Seminar, no doubt many construed Charles Koch's infamous boast that the 2012 election would be "the mother of all wars" as having been directed at President Barack Obama. But, in fact, the remark was part of an all-out war on democracy and the middle class that has seen the Kochs and their fellow plutocrats advancing a radical right, anti-egalitarian agenda at the local, state and federal level.

Theirs is not just the erection of SuperPACS, but the funding and control of front-groups, like the 'Tea Party,' whose hapless followers, as documented by Friedman in his 2010 short video documentary Tea Party Express II, Rise of the Tea Bags, displayed a profound ignorance demonstrating how successful the Kochs and their fellow American fascists have, as Wallace presciently predicted, "poisoned the channels of communications."

The Koch brothers are also amongst the billionaires who fund and control the subversive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), whose Legislative Tasks Forces, as we previously explained, go well beyond simple "lobbying"--- the act of trying "to influence the thinking of legislators or other public officials for or against a specific cause." ALEC's public and private sector members essentially act as a secret, unelected legislative body where "corporations and legislators deliberate [and draft] 'model bills.'" Where, as in Wisconsin, the GOP had obtained a majority in both houses of a state legislature, this amounts to a privatization of the legislative process, so that decisions made in secret are subsequently delivered to the elected state legislature as a fait accompli.

Yet, there are instances in which the Koch brothers may have gone beyond their effort to supplant the legislative process via the privatized ALEC Legislative Task Force, in order to seek criminal impunity.

During a Nov. 27, 2000 episode of 60 Minutes, "Blood and Oil," their brother Bill Koch gave voice to a statement that has, perhaps inaccurately, been ascribed to Honoré de Balzac: "Behind every great fortune there is a great crime."

Bill Koch described brothers David and Charles as "autocratic." Bill said he feared the legacy of Koch Industries would be comparable to that of "organized crime." He alleged that Koch Industries "made millions by stealing oil from the government." According to Bill, the company falsified measurements of the amount of oil Koch was actually acquiring on its run sheets in order to "skim off the top," if you will, just as the mafia is well known to do.

As revealed by 60 Minutes updates, while Koch Industries dismissed Bill Koch as a disgruntled former executive, Bill's 60 Minutes account was supported by the testimony of some 50 former Koch employees in a federal lawsuit. In May, 2001, a settlement was reached with George W. Bush's Koch-friendly Dept. of Justice requiring "Koch Industries to pay $25 million in penalties to the U.S. government for improperly taking more oil than it paid for from federal and Indian lands."

Bill Koch's reference to "organized crime" may understate the problem of impunity that comes with the symbiotic relationship between corporate wealth and political power.

Where CMD's Graves references how Sen. Thompson quashed the effort to compel the Koch brothers to testify before the U.S. Senate pertaining to their role behind front groups like Triad and Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, as it pertained to influence of the 1996 election, on 8/25/10, CMD founder Charles Lewis described to Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman the disturbing context for the Koch brothers political maneuvering:

They [Koch] were being prosecuted for 300 oil spills by the Customs and EPA and Justice Department...And they asked the Senate Majority Leader [Bob Dole] to insert in the so-called regulatory reform legislation a clause that would get rid of any current [U.S. effort to investigate and prosecute] Koch Industries...The person writing the draft for that legislation was the chair of the board of Citizens for a Sound Economy [a Koch-funded front group], former White House counsel...Boyden Gray. This did not work because several people died from bad hamburgers from an E. coli outbreak, and the public started to realize that maybe we do need regulation.

Lewis tied this extralegal effort to obtain impunity to the Koch brothers' use of third-party front groups to fund attack adds against Democrats.

Calling to mind the infamous ruthlessness of John D. Rockefeller that ultimately led to the May 15, 1911 U.S. Supreme Court finding that his company's monopoly violated U.S. anti-trust laws, Lewis referred to Koch Industries as "the Standard Oil of our time."

Where Rockefeller's compelled testimony led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court anti-trust ruling, forcing Bill and David Koch to testify at U.S. Senate Hearings, by shining a light on the corrupt and the corruptible, could lead to monumental legislative changes.

A carefully planned and conducted hearing into this issue could well catapult the need to amend the Constitution to the forefront of our nation's discourse and serve as a means for isolating opposition to such common-sense reform, as would most likely come from the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

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Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968). Follow him on Twitter: @Cann4ing.

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