Cover image for Corruption in America : from Benjamin Franklin's snuff box to Citizens United
Corruption in America : from Benjamin Franklin's snuff box to Citizens United
Teachout, Zephyr.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press, 2014.
Physical Description:
viii, 376 pages ; 22 cm
Four snuff boxes and a horse -- Changing the frame -- Removing temptations -- Yazoo -- Is bribery without a remedy? -- Railroad ties -- The forgotten law of lobbying -- The gilded age -- Two kinds of sticks -- The jury decides -- Operation Gemstone -- A West Virginia state of mind -- Citizens United -- The new snuff boxes -- Facts in exile, complacency, and disdain -- The anticorruption principle.
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Central Library JK2249 .T43 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
Audubon Library JK2249 .T43 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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When Louis XVI presented Benjamin Franklin with a snuff box encrusted with diamonds and inset with the King's portrait, the gift troubled Americans: it threatened to "corrupt" Franklin by clouding his judgment or altering his attitude toward the French in subtle psychological ways. This broad understanding of political corruption--rooted in ideals of civic virtue--was a driving force at the Constitutional Convention.

For two centuries the framers' ideas about corruption flourished in the courts, even in the absence of clear rules governing voters, civil officers, and elected officials. Should a law that was passed by a state legislature be overturned because half of its members were bribed? What kinds of lobbying activity were corrupt, and what kinds were legal? When does an implicit promise count as bribery? In the 1970s the U.S. Supreme Court began to narrow the definition of corruption, and the meaning has since changed dramatically. No case makes that clearer than Citizens United .

In 2010, one of the most consequential Court decisions in American political history gave wealthy corporations the right to spend unlimited money to influence elections. Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion treated corruption as nothing more than explicit bribery, a narrow conception later echoed by Chief Justice Roberts in deciding McCutcheon v. FEC in 2014. With unlimited spending transforming American politics for the worse, warns Zephyr Teachout, Citizens United and McCutcheon were not just bad law but bad history. If the American experiment in self-government is to have a future, then we must revive the traditional meaning of corruption and embrace an old ideal.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

In decisions such as Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and Citizens United v. The Federal Elections Commission (2010), the Supreme Court agreed with First Amendment claims that equate lobbying and campaign spending with political speech and in so doing sharply circumscribed Congress's power to defend itself against corruption or advance notions of the common good informed by the spirit of democratic equality. Teachout (law, Fordham Univ.) explores case law and controversies before the 1970s and finds that many generations of jurists and politicians had a much broader conception of political corruption and a richer sense of civic duty and viewed any sort of gift-giving from private citizens to public officials as ethically dubious and undermining of democratic legitimacy. Though there was quite a bit of public corruption in the old days, there was also a respect for public virtue for which modern jurisprudence has little patience. The Supreme Court's dramatic turn away from an older tradition leaves Congress unable to regulate lobbying and campaign spending wisely, should it chose to do so. With public confidence in government low and Washington politics driven by the agendas of corporations and the wealthy, Teachout's argument is timely, compelling, and important. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. --Richard M. Flanagan, CUNY College of Staten Island

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
1 Four Snuff Boxes and a Horsep. 17
2 Changing the Framep. 32
3 Removing Temptationsp. 56
4 Yazoop. 81
5 Is Bribery without a Remedy?p. 102
6 Railroad Tiesp. 125
7 The Forgotten Law of Lobbyingp. 144
8 The Gilded Agep. 174
9 Two Kinds of Sticksp. 183
10 The Jury Decidesp. 195
11 Operation Gemstonep. 205
12 A West Virginia State of Mindp. 215
13 Citizens Unitedp. 227
14 The New Snuff Boxesp. 246
15 Facts in Exile, Complacency, and Disdainp. 258
16 The Anticorruption Principlep. 276
Conclusionp. 291
Appendix 1 Anticorruption Constitutional Provisionsp. 307
Appendix 2 Major Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Anticorruption Lawsp. 311
Notesp. 313
Cases Citedp. 351
Further Readingp. 357
Acknowledgmentsp. 359
Indexp. 361

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