Trevor Potter, former FEC Commissioner (R), on Citizens United, why corporations shouldn’t participate in our elections, and wha

Bill Moyers’ latest video is an interview with Trevor Potter, a Republican former Commissioner of the Federal Election Commission, best known as Stephen Colbert’s attorney and also Senator John McCain’s former General Counsel.

Mr. Potter makes several important points in the 45-minute interview. Here are some of the choicest excerpts, below (not in chronological order):

BILL MOYERS: Is it conceivable to you that the Citizens United decision and other thumbing of the nose at reform, comes because the [Supreme Court] justices don’t have real world experience?

TREVOR POTTER: Yeah. I think they have a really ideological view without the real world experience that might tell them why it doesn’t work…

BILL MOYERS: When you say they’re ideological, what do you mean by that?

TREVOR POTTER: Well, it seems to me that the Supreme Court majority and Citizens United ignored, essentially, a hundred years of American history, going back to date Theodore Roosevelt and his first clarion call, that big money and Wall Street not dominate the presidential election. And his urging of Congress to limit corporate contributions.

The court essentially gave that all the back of their hand and said, "Under our view of the First Amendment, you can’t do this." Now, to me, that is ideological to, first of all, not only ignore the precedent for a hundred years, but ignore a whole range of court decisions by other Supreme Courts, other justices, who thought this was consistent with the First Amendment.

So to say, "Everyone is wrong who’s gone before us, all those justices, all those cases, we just see it a different way," seems to me to be a very ideological statement.

TREVOR POTTER: …So to say that the right thing to do in a democracy is have a corporation spend money in ways that will give them the most profit, never mind what happens to anyone else or the rest of the country. It is, I think, an example of why you don’t really want corporations participating directly in elections.

They have a very narrow interest. Which is supposed to be their shareholders. But we want voters and citizens to have a broader interest. To think about the next generation, to think about the greater good. There’s an interesting quote from the head of Exxon in a new book out on Exxon where he says, "Exxon is not a U.S. corporation, we do not act in the best interest of the United States."

Well, it is a U.S. corporation, but what he meant is, they have shareholders all over the world, they have investments all over the world, and it’s not his job to do things that are good for America, it’s his job to do things that are good for his international shareholders.

BILL MOYERS: What about foreign companies, foreign groups, multinationals? I know you remember the moment in President Obama’s State of the Union message when he said, "Citizens United is going to invite contributions from foreign companies."…

TREVOR POTTER: …The issue behind it all is how do we know? If you have all these anonymous sources of spending, we have no way of knowing where the money is coming from.

BILL MOYERS: Take Aramco, for example. We talked about the American Petroleum Institute earlier. One of its members, big members, is Aramco, the Arabian Oil Company, a member of an American based petroleum lobby. How do we know that’s not Aramco money mixed up in the American Petroleum Institute’s donations?

TREVOR POTTER: Well, we don’t. We have to rely on Aramco understanding and following the law… [The law in this area]’s not the most straightforward thing in the world. Aramco has to understand that and carefully follow it. And nobody on the outside is going to know how it worked.

TREVOR POTTER: …these Super PACs… are not what the court said we were going to get. When the courts midwifed these things, they said, "They can’t corrupt because they’re totally independent of candidates and parties. And that’s why you can give them an unlimited amount, because you’re not buying access, the candidates may not like them, they’re wholly independent." Well that’s baloney. They’re not independent in any way.

They become sort of shadow party committees. The candidates, including the President or the White House aides, are allowed under the current rules to actually raise money for them, to endorse them, to say, you know, "This group is really important to me." Mitt Romney went and spoke to a group of donors to what he called his Super PAC."

The full interview can be seen here.

Oh, and our video has a brief cameo too, in Moyers’ set-up before the interview, at about the 1:25 mark. 
 

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