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Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin's Snuff Box to Citizens United
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Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin's Snuff Box to Citizens United

3.83  ·  Rating Details ·  192 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 376 pages
Published September 29th 2014 by Harvard University Press (first published September 15th 2014)
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Robert Wechsler
Oct 09, 2014 Robert Wechsler rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
What makes this book is the passion with which Teachout wrote it. Yes, it helps to be a lawyer, since she discusses many judicial decisions. But she does it with great emotion and erudition both, and she tells some wonderful historical tales.

But this is not a history of corruption in America. It is a history of the idea of corruption, and what the Founders and elected officials and judges since have done and said to prevent it. Teachout is very disheartened by recent Supreme Court decisions, whi
Aug 30, 2016 Hana marked it as to-read
I came across this thanks to Matt Stoller's excellent review.
If there’s one way to summarize Zephyr Teachout’s extraordinary book Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United, it is that today we are living in Benjamin Franklin’s dystopia. Her basic contention, which is not unfamiliar to most of us in sentiment if not in detail, is that the modern Supreme Court has engaged in a revolutionary reinterpretation of corruption and therefore in American political life.
Mal Warwick
Dec 04, 2014 Mal Warwick rated it it was amazing
If you’re among the four out of five Americans who decry Citizens United as a tragic misstep, law professor Zephyr Teachout will show you just how far outside the bounds of precedent and tradition the Supreme Court stepped when it produced this misbegotten ruling.

“This new legal order,” Ms. Teachout writes, “treats corruption lightly and in a limited way. It narrows the scope of what is considered corruption to explicit deals. It reclassifies influence-seeking as normal and desirable political b
Nov 14, 2014 Stephen rated it really liked it
Shelves: social-sciences
This fine book, by the constitutional law professor who outpolled Andrew Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic primary in half the counties of New York State, looks at 200 + years of American history to document how and by what steps the definition of "corruption" has been itself corroded. The author holds that founding fathers like Madison were intent on not letting money or birth buy undue influence with judges, legislatures, state and federal officials and, to a lesser extent with referenda. She ...more
Richard Evert
Nov 29, 2014 Richard Evert rated it it was amazing
A very interesting book that I wish were a bit better written. Teachout has some difficulty in summarizing the key facts of certain legal cases, i.e., in giving enough background to make the legal point clear.

But her ideas are extremely important. Almost every commentator agrees that Citizens United was wrongly decided. Most critiques focus on the Court's notion of corporations as people and/or on its acceptance of the idea (from the 1974 decision in Buckley v. Valeo) that spending money to publ
Jan 07, 2015 Gordon rated it really liked it
Shelves: school
With the increasingly precious definition of corruption as offered by the Roberts' Court, this book offers a heartfelt plea for a belief in the value of selflessness on the part of the state and on the part of its citizens. With the dulcet tones of Reagan still echoing in my ears as he told our country that government was not a solution, it was the problem, and the encouragement of cyphers who believe in the half-baked selfishness of Ayn Rand, I had almost begun to think that I was outmoded and ...more
Andy Marton
Jan 01, 2015 Andy Marton rated it it was amazing
Zephyr Teachout does something incredible in this book. She carefully shows the reader the mere outline of what corruption is. It is not something constant or easily defined. It is an ever evolving force in this country, one that we are trying to too-narrowly approach, one that we seem resigned to.

Teachout's subtitle is a very good prelude into what we will see in this book: she starts by explaining the Founding Fathers' fears of British-style corruption, regarding a gift to Benjamin Franklin by
Dec 02, 2014 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: ebook, kindle
Teachout is a professor of law and a politician. Her book is a scholarly look at the concept of corruption in America and the evolution of laws to prevent corruption in our government. She argues forcefully that much of the U.S. Constitution is an exercise in preventing corruption. She notes that recent Supreme Court rulings, especially Citizens United, has narrowed the definition of corruption to only quid quo pro, much more limited than the Founders intended. The book concludes with several ...more
Muath Aziz
Jan 20, 2016 Muath Aziz rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015, history, politics
Law, History, Politics, America, the book got all that! The book is really comprehensive and to the point, no useless historical facts like what you usually see in some books.

The book is accessible and for everyone interested in politics and not just for specialists.
Aug 28, 2016 Mehrsa rated it it was amazing
Zephyr Teachout makes her case brilliantly. Overturn Citizens United and Buckley!
Nick Klagge
Sep 25, 2016 Nick Klagge rated it it was amazing
Zephyr Teachout is an awesome person, and this is an awesome book. If you happen to live in New York's 19th congressional district (Dutchess County), you can vote for her for Congress this fall!

She is also a law professor at Fordham University, and this book shows the overlap between her legal studies and her political convictions. At a high level, the book is a critique of the Citizens' United supreme court decision. In service of that critique, as the title suggests, ZT provides an overview of
Oct 21, 2016 Seth rated it really liked it
Part history text, part civics lesson, part call to action. A very enlightening look into the background of our current Supreme Court, why they think the way they think, and what we as citizens can do going forward. A bit dry at times, but her passion for the subject carries you through it.
Oct 17, 2016 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Yes. I completely agree with Zephyr Teachout, I am also more drawn to the "...anticorruption principal than a potential alternate --which one might call the virtue principle -- is that it focuses on structures that discourage the worst kinds of systemic self-interest. We should not maintain impossibly high ideal of public virtue but think of the anticorruption principle as a support for laws that protect citizens and officials from excessive temptation." Seems like that is a pretty good ...more
Aug 22, 2016 Don rated it it was amazing
Zephyr Teachout, lawyer and law professor, candidate for the U.S. Congress from a Hudson Valley, New York district as this review is being written, takes us on a tour of the history of the concept of “corruption” in American government from the time of the Articles of Confederation to 2014, the publishing date of this book. Her book is timely, clearly presented, well-argued, and shows a path towards limiting or reversing the negative effects of the Citizens United decision on politics and policy ...more
John Hopkins
Sep 26, 2016 John Hopkins rated it really liked it
It is distressing to read how far we have wandered from the rigor with which our country's founders strove to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest by public servants. It might surprise you to learn that until the 20th century even lobbying was considered a dishonorable act, not protected by the laws of contract that support all other business activity. The author teaches law and she sometimes is a challenge for the non-lawyer. Her book rewards perseverance, however, and if you ...more
Bill Glover
Sep 18, 2016 Bill Glover rated it it was amazing
This book is about corruption; a historical view of this cancer as it has spread through the American political culture, and how it effects our process today. This author, Zephyr Teachout, is running for the The House of Representatives in New York’s 19th district. I expect informed voters will vote for her without hesitation.
The political discourse we should have about corruption we aren’t having at all. We’ve ruled that intent is vital to proving corruption. Should we have, knowing that legall
Elizabeth Millard Whitman
This is an important book that argues that the U.S. should define political corruption much more broadly, and take much stronger steps to combat corruption, than it currently does. Ultimately, the book is about why the Citizens' United decision was wrong and why it poses such a serious threat to American democracy. The writing is not particularly elegant: the book reads like a legal brief, raising contrary arguments only to knock them down (I make this point even though I am entirely in accord ...more
Written as a response to recent Supreme Court decisions, the author describes and evaluates how leading political and legal figures have thought of and addressed the problem of corruption since the founding of the country. Those of us who follow current events might remember Zephyr Teachout (such an awesome name!) for her unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial primary run in New York. In this fascinating book, she thoughtfully and concisely argues that corruption should be regarded as greater and ...more
Aug 01, 2016 Pam rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, dave
Zephyr Teachout does an excellent job discussing the transition of the concept of corruption in politics from undue influence to quid pro quo. She provides detailed historical discussion of the courts' view of corruption and the growing a acceptance of money in political policy culminating in the Citizen's United case. The bleak picture she paints causes me to hope that the court will come to understand the inevitable corruption of big money in politics and the resulting disenfranchisement of ...more
Nov 21, 2014 Gwenn rated it really liked it
Excellent and concise overview of how the politics of corruption has changed since the Founding Fathers. Sadly, we are at a point where almost everything in our political process directly contradicts what the Founding Fathers believed was necessary to preserve a true representative democracy. In particular, it explains why Citizens United not only contradicts several hundred years of Supreme Court precedent but directly contravenes the intent of the Free Speech Clause of the Constitution.
Robert Schertzer
Aug 07, 2015 Robert Schertzer rated it really liked it
In this book, Zephyr Teachout documents how America has institutionalized political influence, culminating in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. (For more information She combines political history with case law to solidly back up her argument. Overall it makes for a disturbing read about how the money from < 1/10,000 Americans influences laws that effect everyone.
Mar 03, 2015 David rated it liked it
It reads like it was written by one of those law professors who doesn't try to win you over with lame jokes and smug putdowns...wait a second, that's a actually a bit of a shock. It's careful to the point of being a little dull, but then again it's hard to produce a truly snappy argument on this topic as the big cases demonstrate the existence of a few broad themes but do not fit together like a jigsaw puzzle at all.
Thought provoking and seems to be well researched. I did find it to be slightly difficult to follow at times. Piqued my interest in reading more about the constitutional convention. A valuable book help understand the concept of corruption, the risks it brings to our republic and what solutions are available.
Jul 21, 2016 Dave rated it really liked it
Exhaustive review of the history of the idea of corruption in American law and society. Teachout taught me a lot about why Scalia and others have been so eager to dismantle anti-corruption laws during the last twenty years. This isn't an easy read because it is so dense, but it is a worthwhile one. I wish that the conclusion had been more forceful.
Apr 10, 2015 Steve rated it liked it
Shelves: uborrow, evaluated
I read the Introduction, Chapter 1 - Four Snuff Boxes and a Horse and the Conclusion.

It was shocking for me to read of the change in meaning of corruption, and consequently change in laws regulating corruption. The broad view of corruption as being connected to moral virtue has been replaced with being narrowly defined as a strictly quid pro quo transaction.
Aug 02, 2016 Bill rated it liked it
Difficult to read as a non-constitutional scholar. However, very well written and may be an indictment to over turn peoples united. Does the definition of corruption require a specific defined reward or simply a common sense suggestion of quid pro quo?
Dec 28, 2014 Jonathan rated it really liked it
Overall, an enjoyable and informative history. It can be dry at times when it seems to get bogged down in legalese, but the clear argument running through it (and the passion behind that argument) make it readable.
Matt Haynes
Jul 25, 2016 Matt Haynes rated it really liked it
Definitely a good read. Very scary to think about all of the corruption that takes place in government today.
Dec 20, 2015 Craig rated it it was amazing
This book is a masterful work that blends history, law, and philosophy all in one. I would recommend this book to anyone.
Jan 02, 2015 Steve rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this book and learned a lot - more than I expected on both counts. A lot of interesting legal and political history.
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“The two national powers that dominated the colonies, France and Britain, represented two different models of corruption. Britain was seen as a failed ideal. It was corrupted republic, a place where the premise of government was basically sound but civic virtue—that of the public and public officials—was degenerating. On the other hand, France was seen as more essentially corrupt, a nation in which there was no true polity, but instead exchanges of luxury for power; a nation populated by weak subjects and flattering courtiers. Britain was the greater tragedy, because it held the promise of integrity, whereas France was simply something of a civic cesspool.” 3 likes
“In 1970 only 3 percent of senators and congresspeople leaving office became lobbyists; now over 50 percent do,” 3 likes
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