Corruption at the Supreme Court, White House

New investigations reveal that, not only do we have Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices using their offices to promote ideological political agendas, but that they are also hiding their politically-funded income from public view.


Antonin Scalia is the latest to cross the line with an announcement that he plans to address the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives. The New York Times editorial board accused Scalia of becoming a "Justice from the Tea Party" for his planned participation in their caucus seminar.


This isn't Scalia's first breech of court practices. Scalia also spoke at a Koch Industries retreat, sponsored by two billionaire brothers with a history of supporting extreme right-wing positions that promote pollution, deregulation of all markets, abolition of income taxes, as well as attacks on climate change theory. The Koch brothers are well-known financiers of right-wing groups such as the Tea Party and benefactors of a recent Supreme Court decision.


The allegations against Scalia drew attention when Common Cause, a liberal advocacy group, raised questions about the participation of Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas in last year's Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns, thus overturning years of judicial precedent. Normally when judges are personally involved in cases before the court, they recuse themselves because they cannot give an unbiased opinion when they have a conflict of interest. Supreme Court Justices are legally exempt from this requirement, but few justices push their involvement as much as Scalia and Thomas have.


Thomas's breaches of judicial ethical practices are worse. Thomas's wife received almost $700,000 from the Heritage Foundation, a think-tank dedicated to pushing a conservative agenda that attacks welfare, taxes, government regulations, civil rights, social security, unions, and various forms of government assistance. Additionally, Ms. Thomas founded Liberty Central—a Tea Party group dedicated to ousting Obama and defeating health-care reform—and received $550,000 from the group. She refuses to disclose who provided the funds, raising the question as to whether the money could be used to influence Thomas's decisions in Court cases.


Thomas defends himself by claiming he ignored $1,250,000 in income because he "misunderstood filing instructions" in the 1978 Ethics in Government Act. The president of Common Cause says he finds his excuse "implausible." But Thomas's explanation also raises questions about his ability to understand simple legal instructions, let alone the complex issues that come before the Supreme Court.


The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) revealed even more egregious and illegal political misconduct elsewhere in the federal government in a detailed, 112-page report, "Political Activities by White House and Federal Agency Officials During the 2006 Midterm Elections." The independent federal investigative agency is empowered to oversee the political activities of government employees in accordance with the Hatch Act. The OSC makes sure officials do not use their offices to promote politics in government workplaces or to coerce government employees into participating in political campaigns.


The report found that the Bush White House and Karl Rove conducted briefings of appointees in federal workplaces during work hours, coordinated their activities with the Republican National Committee, and paid the expenses of high-level federal officials to attend political events supporting candidates.


The Bush White House conducted 75 political briefings involving 20 government agencies, gave employees secret RNC email accounts, and materially assisted the election of Republican candidates. The findings came after an investigation that reviewed over 100,000 pages of documents, including secret emails, and interviewed more than 80 Bush appointees. The results found "that the electoral success of the Republican Party, and possible strategies for achieving it, were often on the agenda."


The Hatch Act specifically prohibits "engaging in political activity while on duty or in a federal workplace." A large number of White House appointees violated the act by "coordinating, presenting, or attending the briefing." These political briefings mobilized appointees during the election season with information about "the overall political climate, the economic landscape, the President's job approval ratings, and the current and predicted makeup of Congress." The White House emphasized that appointees' activities were "appreciated."


The political briefings were mandatory and their nature clear. For example, the White House wanted to brief USAID to "keep the troops informed, motivated and activated as we move forwards toward the fall elections." Eleven different Power Point presentations included specific instructions that focused on particular political races and geographic districts critical to the Republican Party. The presentations specified calls for volunteers and actions to be taken, including a 72-hour mobilization before the elections.


The report clearly finds that activities were no simple "get out the vote" campaign, but included illegal actions by federal agency heads, the White House, and major Republican Party officials, orchestrated by Karl Rove.


With such clear-cut evidence, should we hold our breath until a case is brought against Rove and the others involved? Will Bush be indicted in the case? Will the Tea Party and the newly invigorated Republican Party rush in to make government bureaucrats pay for their crimes? Or will charges ever be brought?


Don Monkerud is an Aptos, California-based writer who follows cultural issues and politics and writes occasional satire.