While lobbying at the Legislature for a response to the Citizens United situation (Money equals speech; corporations are people), a delegate complained mildly that her computer was on the blink and how much that put a crimp in her ability to keep in touch and do her work. If a knowledgeable techie wanders into her office, I have little doubt that her response would be something on the order of "Thank goodness you are here. Please, help me. The system is broken!"
By contrast, another visitor, a constituent who came to lobby for help with laws concerning fishing, or employment of the handicapped, or small business regulation or most anything, would receive a bland, polite, professional smile. The legislator would listen for some minutes and then assure the constituent that she would look into the matter and, take action if necessary and possible.
But the situation with respect to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision is different from fishing or employment or other issues brought by constituents. Citizens United involves the entire system, not just a part of it.
At this time most successful state and national politicians attain power slowly by becoming known -- first locally and then, if they are fortunate, in an ever widening circle -- through their reputation. Success results in more support and more support breeds more success, in a virtuous cycle. The politician in question attains an ever higher and more prominent political position. But the advent of the Citizens United decisions opens up a new and dangerous shortcut to high political position: A shadowy wealthy group can decide to put their own stooge into power and spend a great deal of money to do so. A spate of highly visible, vicious ads washes away the incumbent's carefully built reputation and web of local connections, and a cat's paw is inserted into the system -- there to stay as long as he does his master's bidding. The stooge then bends the laws in favor of his masters, and they become even wealthier. A vicious cycle is set in motion.
From the politician's point of view, it's as if a sniper has suddenly begun an attack on the public. During an election cycle, a well-known and respected player disappears. Most folks are not fully aware of the replacement's agenda, but insiders can connect the dots. The new guy (or gal) has no interest in fishing or small business or handicapped employment. He or she is there for only one reason -- to make their powerful but invisible backers even more powerful.
Eventually all that is required for such wealthy backers to attain their goals is the threat of being a target. In a scene worthy of the Godfather series, a bland, hard-eyed visitor calls upon a politician with an offer they cannot refuse: Either they will agree to vote as the wealthy backers wish or else they will have to run against a stooge who can command huge amounts of political advertising resources.
Under these circumstances it would be appropriate for senators and delegates to welcome Citizen United lobbyists into their offices not with a bland smile and promises to look into the matter. No, their opening remarks should be, "Thank goodness you are here. Please, help me. The system is broken!"
Palmer, of Charleston, is retired and is a substitute teacher.