Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Who Has Put Pubic Hair on Our "Citizens United" Decision? Could It Be Ginni Thomas?

There was one predominant reaction to Ginni Thomas' insistence that Anita Hill needs to apologize for her sexual-harassment testimony against Clarence Thomas 19 years ago: what was Mrs. Thomas thinking? What could the Thomases possibly gain by resurrecting a controversy so old that many of Ms. Hill's law students didn't realize who she was?

On the eve of Halloween week, why treat a new generation of Americans to the macabre details of Ms. Hill's allegations against Mr. Thomas--including sharing his interest in pornography and his horniness with unwilling female co-workers and, above all, his elocution to some of them:
"Who has put public hair on my Coke?"

And did Mrs. Thomas give no thought that her new harassment of Ms. Hill might bring comment from others who had been romantically involved with Mr. Thomas in the past--like former girlfriend Lillian McEwan, previously an SEC lawyer, who last week confirmed that Mr. Thomas was really into porn and really aggressive in pushing himself sexually on female co-workers? Don't McEwan's revelations set up Mr. Thomas for impeachment by Congress, on the grounds that he lied under oath in his confirmation hearings?

Whether Mrs. Thomas' role as a prominent tea bagger and high-profile fund raiser for the movement was a motivating factor is unknown. But Providence Journal columnist Fromma Harrop finds it ironic that by putting her husband's controversy back in the news, Mrs. Thomas has helped us focus on the serious threat posed by the Supreme Court's ruling in the "Citizens United" case.

Harrop doesn't say so, but I will: the pubic hair on the Coke has become the pubic hair on Citizens United: Mrs. Thomas' gambit personifies why allowing 501(c)(4) groups with phantom donors to contribute anonymously and without limit to partisan political advertising is such a danger to American democracy.

Portions of Harrop's column follow:

Ginni Thomas has bigger fish to fry than to rehash her grievances with Anita Hill. She's raised hundreds of thousands for her lucrative political brainchild, Liberty Central. The group's mission is to co-opt tea party types and deliver them to the Republican establishment. What better way for Ginni to profit from right-wing anger than to portray herself as the victim of a left-wing smear campaign?

By all means, let's keep the spotlight on her and follow it to Liberty Central. You think that big money has already taken over Washington? You have no idea how much worse it could get. The Thomases' activities provide a number of scary potential scenarios.

Clarence Thomas' more serious brush with indecency involved his role last January in the obscene Citizens United ruling. Joining the conservative majority, he helped open the stable doors for 501(c)(4) groups, like Ginni's Liberty Central, to collect millions from unidentified donors, then use the money to run political ads.

Now, Ginni is a private citizen who has every right to be politically active. Liberals can play the same game. But here's the problem — and it goes way beyond possibly compromising the electoral process.
Clarence rules on cases that affect powerful economic interests. We have no idea whether those interests are simultaneously enriching Ginni's political group and, by extension, the Thomas household. But Ginni knows.

What's to stop her from saying over breakfast: "Honey, Megamogul Hedge Fund Partners has just given Liberty Central $500,000. They need your help at court today." Or to better protect her husband from possible conflict-of-interest charges, she could take an indirect approach: "Honey, I don't care for the plaintiff's argument in today's case," followed by a wink.

Perhaps the Thomases are sterling servants of the public good. Still, how can we assess whether a justice has a conflict of interest without knowing where the family's money comes from?

The classic conservative cure for keeping elections honest while allowing unlimited campaign spending was to disclose the names of the spenders. Now we can't even tell who may be paying people off.

Thank you, Ginni Thomas, for keeping us focused on these dangers to the democracy. You may have done our civic culture a great service even if you had no intention of doing it.

No comments: