Summary: It’s fun to read the shocked, shocked reactions to the Supreme Court’s latest gutting of the campaign finance laws. The 1% have been gathering wealth, income, and political power for 40 years. What did the Left expect the 1% to once they owned the high ground n every aspect of American society? Like Bruce Wayne, dedicate themselves to building a better America for its people — especially the poor and working poor?
The 1% are regular people, ambitious and greedy, so of course they’re wielding their power to consolidate their position, to break down the barriers hemming them in, and shifting the tax burden to others. And the sun will rise tomorrow.
They will continue to gain power. The process has passed the point when any easy reforms will slow, let alone stop, the process. Reversing it, restoring the Second Republic (or building a Third), is a goal beyond my sight today.
Doing the least of these things will require us to change ourselves, to again become citizens (not subjects).
Doing the greatest of these will require effort and risk beyond anything we’ve done in generations. Perhaps since the Civil War.
Below are reports about the latest step the Supreme Court has taken to boost the power of the 1%, which for most of American history has been its primary role. These stories, like most political reporting, are read by Americans as entertainment. Opportunities to cheer our side and boo the bad guys. How sad. If these do not incite you to action, then why read them? Find a more productive or fulfilling way to spend your time — for they have no useful information content except to politicians, political operatives, lobbyists, and reformers.
(a) “Roberts Court: Government Must Be By, and For, the Wealthy“, Scott Lemieux (Prof History & Political Science, College of St Rose), The American Prospect, 2 April 2014 — Excerpt:
Everyone who thinks that the rich don’t have enough influence on American politics can rest easier.
In an expected but still depressing decision today, the Supreme Court struck down aggregate limits on how much an individual can donate to politicians and political parties within a 2-year window as a violation of the First Amendment. Having already made it impossible for Congress to place significant restrictions on campaign spending, a bare majority of the Court is now chipping away at the ability of Congress to place limits on donations as well.
… To the Roberts Court, money should talk as loudly as possible while ordinary voters can take a walk.
(b) “The Supreme Court’s Ideology: More Money, Less Voting“, Ari Berman, The Nation, 2 April 2014
In the past four years, under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court has made it far easier to buy an election and far harder to vote in one.
- First came the Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which brought us the Super PAC era.
- Then came the Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act.
- Now we have McCutcheon v. FEC, where the Court, in yet another controversial 5-4 opinion written by Roberts, struck down the limits on how much an individual can contribute to candidates, parties and political action committees. So instead of an individual donor being allowed to give $117,000 to campaigns, parties and PACs in an election cycle (the aggregate limit in 2012), they can now give up to $3.5 million, Andy Kroll of Mother Jones reports.
The Court’s conservative majority believes that the First Amendment gives wealthy donors and powerful corporations the carte blanche right to buy an election but that the Fifteenth Amendment does not give Americans the right to vote free of racial discrimination.
These are not unrelated issues—the same people, like the Koch brothers, who favor unlimited secret money in US elections are the ones funding the effort to make it harder for people to vote. The net effect is an attempt to concentrate the power of the top 1% in the political process and to drown out the voices and votes of everyone else.
… Now consider what’s happened since Shelby County: 8 states previously covered under Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act have passed or implemented new voting restrictions (Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia, South Carolina, and North Carolina). That has had a ripple effect elsewhere. According to the New York Times, “9 states [under GOP control] have passed measures making it harder to vote since the beginning of 2013.”
A country that expands the rights of the powerful to dominate the political process but does not protect fundamental rights for all citizens doesn’t sound much like a functioning democracy to me.
(c) “Justice Roberts Hearts Billionaires: The chief either doesn’t believe, or doesn’t care, that money corrupts politics“, Dahlia Lithwick, Slate, 2 April 2014 — Excerpt:
Five years ago, when the Supreme Court handed down the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, polls showed that the American public — or at least a mere 80% of them — disapproved. Now of course public approval hardly matters when it comes to interpreting the First Amendment, but given that one of the important issues in the case was the empirical question of whether corporate free speech rights increased the chance of corruption or the appearance of corruption in electoral politics, the court might care at least a bit about what the public thinks constitutes corruption. Or why the public believed Citizens United opened the floodgates to future corruption. Or why it is that campaign finance reform once seemed to be a good idea with respect to fighting corruption in the first instance.
… That leaves three possibilities for the chief justice’s divorced-from-reality decision about the relationship between corruption, huge money, and politics today:
- Either he thinks Americans really don’t see any connection.
- Or he doesn’t care what we see or believe.
- Or he really doesn’t think that candidates dialing for big dollars constitutes corruption.
None of these alternatives is pretty. But I worry that the court has located itself so outside the orbit of the 99% that it simply doesn’t matter to the 5 conservatives in the majority that the American public knows perfectly well what bought government looks like and that Breyer is describing a level of cynicism that has already arrived.
Worse still, I worry that it matters very little to them that we will stop voting, donating, participating, or caring about elections at all in light of this decision to silence us yet further. In which case McCutcheon is a self-fulfilling prophecy in exactly the way Breyer predicts: Money doesn’t just talk. It also eventually forces the public to understand that we don’t much matter. It silences. It already has.
(d) “Supreme Court’s abomination: How McCutcheon decision will destroy American politics“, Paul Campos (Prof Law, U CO-Boulder), Salon, 2 April 2014 — “Thanks to Scalia and co., the rich will now be able to buy politicians as effortlessly as they buy anything else.” Excerpt:
“Money talks,” Elvis Costello once observed, “and it’s persuasive.” The belief that this is especially true in the world of politics led to the passage of the Federal Election Campaign Act. In the aftermath of Watergate the FECA was strengthened in an attempt to limit the corrupting influence of money on politics, and, until 2010, the Supreme Court largely upheld Congress’s power to do so.
That year the Citizens United case, which essentially found that the free speech rights of corporations were more important than legislative attempts to keep money from corrupting the political process, occasioned a great deal of outrage. But that case marked merely the beginning of what is likely to prove to be a series of increasingly successful assaults on campaign finance laws.
And now, Wednesday, the next blow to attempting to keep the rich from being able to buy politicians as effortlessly as they purchase anything else has been struck by McCutcheon v. FEC, a Supreme Court case dealing with limits on how much money individuals can contribute to candidates.
McCutcheon has now struck down overall limits on individual campaign contributions. This latest outburst of judicial activism in the struggle to render campaign finance laws completely toothless is merely accelerating a historical process that is coming to seem almost inevitable.
To see why, consider the practical implications of the theory that weak or nonexistent limits on campaign finance will allow the rich to transform what is putatively a democratic republic into an unapologetic plutocracy.
… If the Koch brothers want the First Amendment to mean that rich people have a constitutional right to buy unlimited political influence, they and their ilk will use their wealth to eventually bring about the social and political conditions that will guarantee that five people who sincerely agree with them on this point will be sitting on the Supreme Court.
About the details of the ruling (will be updated)
“Die Another Day: The Supreme Court takes a big step closer to gutting the last bits of campaign finance reform“, Richard L. Hasen (Prof law & political science, UC–Irvine), Slate, 2 April 2014
Conservative attorney’s (again) cheer as the Republic dies
- “Where do the Supreme Court’s campaign finance cases come from?“, Will Baude, The Volokh Conspiracy (at WaPo), 2 April 2014
- “Breyer’s dangerous dissent in McCutcheon (the campaign finance case)“, David Bernstein, The Volokh Conspiracy (at WaPo), 2 April 2014
For More Information
Posts about campaign finance reform:
- Campaign finance reform = incumbent protection, 20 December 2009
- Tom explains what it costs to run for public office, 29 September 2009
- The sky darkens over America, as we (the little people) are made smaller than we were last week, 24 January 2010
Posts about presidential campaigns:
- About campaigns for high office in America – we always expect a better result from the same process, 17 June 2009
- Why do awesome people – like us – have such inadequate leaders?, 2 April 2012 — Because we vote.
- The presidential debates are performance art. They’re Kabuki., 4 October 2012
- A reminder that debates are fun, not politics: Reagan had Alzheimer’s in 1984 and we didn’t notice., 5 October 2012