Philadelphians owe Inquirer reporters Jennifer Lin, Mario F. Cattabiani and Amy Worden --as well as Inky columnist Monica Yant Kinney, a round of applause for their recent reporting commentary on Foxwoods casino, its connections to the governor's office and Ed Rendell's suckitude.
If you haven't already heard, Foxwoods got a generous extension on its gaming license, which was set to expire if it was unable to open a slots parlor by May 2011. And although no one wants to say who got the language in the casino bill, it appears that Foxwoods lawyer Steve Cozen -- who's not only a close friend of Ed Rendell but a VERY generous funder -- worked pretty hard to get the exemption. According to the Inky report, Rendell says he told Cozen he would sign the bill if the Foxwoods exemption made it into the bill. And it did.
And oh yeah: since 2000 Cozen personally gave nearly $145,000 to Rendell's campaigns. On top of that, there's an additional $66,000 his law firm's PAC raised. And just last year, Rendell's son joined the firm. It's nice to have friends in high places.
Rendell, of course, insists there was no quid pro quo -- nothing like the cut rate home renovations that got disgraced former Alaska Sen. Ted Stephens in so much trouble. Instead, we have the problem of "suck," Rendell's term for the state of karmic indebtedness he owes big donors who helped him get where he is today. Rendell says he repays "suck" with nice gestures, like showing up at awards ceremonies that honor his donors. As Yant Kinney detailed, Rendell believes he's exceptional at repaying "suck" -- but only within the bounds of ethics and the law, of course.
"I am the best at it," Rendell recently declared. "That's what I do for contributors. I make them feel like a big deal."
What isn't suck? Special favors, insider deals, or fat contracts as a quid pro quo for all that dough.
Such partiality, Rendell implies, would give suck a bad name. And suck is all good, presuming you've been good to the governor.
Yant Kinney says, "Cozen had enough suck to learn how to get what he wanted, but not enough to guarantee it." I say it sucks, period.
None of this is any surprise in Pennsie politics, but if you think Cozen's sweetheart relationship with the governor sucks, wait til you see what happens later this year now that the Supreme Court has struck down laws banning direct corporate spending on elections. In fact, according to Zach Roth at Talking Points Memo, "striking down the ban on direct corporate spending in elections could allow overseas corporations -- even those controlled by foreign governments -- to pour money into U.S. elections."
According to experts, it doesn't apply to foreign-owned corporations that incorporate in the U.S., or have U.S. subsidiaries -- meaning most foreign multinationals likely aren't covered. So there's "essentially no difference" between domestic and foreign corporations in terms of their ability to pump money into U.S. elections, says Lisa Gilbert of (the Public Interest Research Group) -- a view backed by several other advocates of increased regulation.
What does this mean for Pennsylvania? It means giant corporations no longer have to kiss the governor's substantial posterior for tax breaks: instead, they can just buy their own candidate and run pretty much unlimited attack ads against anyone who gets in the way. Think the Marcellus Shale producers get a sweet deal now? Wait until they can run their own politicians. And wait until corporations like Aramco, owned by the Saudis, get into the act.
Some, like Glenn Greenwald, argue that the Supreme Court's decision is actually a victory for free speech, because "the speech restrictions struck down by Citizens United do not only apply to Exxon and Haliburton; they also apply to non-profit advocacy corporations, such as, say, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, as well as labor unions, which are genuinely burdened in their ability to express their views by these laws."
Others argue that politics is already awash in corporate cash, and the ruling won't make a difference. I'm not sure if I take that point of view: if money is speech, as the Court contends, then the balance is clearly tipped to corporations, which have pockets far deeper than any non-profit or union could ever hope to have.
I think we'll see uglier campaigns, in which progressive voices are drowned out by a flood of corporate-funded propaganda. I think we're more likely to see more purchased judges, leading to more kids-for-cash style scandals. I think public policy will suffer as handpicked politicians backed by more money than you can imagine will steamroll into office and proceed to legislate for their owners, rather than the people.
The only hope, in my opinion, is publicly-funded elections. Which kinda brings us back to Cozen and Foxwoods: In the casino we call Pennsylvania politics, anyone want to place their bets on an initiative like that passing?
Me neither. And that sucks.
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