Destroying campaign finance laws, another win for the 1%. Another step to a New America.

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?

Scalia and Roberts
Please with themselves: Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia & John Roberts. Reuters/Brendan McDermid; AP/Larry Downing

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.

  1. First came the Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which brought us the Super PAC era.
  2. Then came the Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act.
  3. 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:

  1. Either he thinks Americans really don’t see any connection.
  2. Or he doesn’t care what we see or believe.
  3. 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

  1. Where do the Supreme Court’s campaign finance cases come from?“, Will Baude, The Volokh Conspiracy (at WaPo), 2 April 2014
  2. Breyer’s dangerous dissent in McCutcheon (the campaign finance case)“, David Bernstein, The Volokh Conspiracy (at WaPo), 2 April 2014
Elections are now festivals
Elections are now festivals

For More Information

Posts about campaign finance reform:

  1. Campaign finance reform = incumbent protection, 20 December 2009
  2. Tom explains what it costs to run for public office, 29 September 2009
  3. 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:

  1. About campaigns for high office in America – we always expect a better result from the same process, 17 June 2009
  2. Why do awesome people – like us – have such inadequate leaders?, 2 April 2012 — Because we vote.
  3. The presidential debates are performance art. They’re Kabuki., 4 October 2012
  4. A reminder that debates are fun, not politics: Reagan had Alzheimer’s in 1984 and we didn’t notice., 5 October 2012



34 thoughts on “Destroying campaign finance laws, another win for the 1%. Another step to a New America.”

  1. This is indeed bad, FM; but it begs the question of what, then, is good?

    If, as Michael Yglesias has asserted, it has been futile to adopt a Green Lantern approach to foreign policy – whereby by shear will we bring about conditions we would desire, likewise to Green Lantern domestic policy also is futile. We cannot simply will The Republic or any reasonable equivalent into being.

    The status quo is a carcass; and if it is too difficult, dangerous, and problematic to get rid of it right now, it is also a waste of time to revive it. We must move on to other things.

    The Treaty of Westphalia killed the Holy Roman Empire but did not end it. Rather, it lingered for 150 more years; while modern states such as Prussia and Austria incubated within it.

    Now the nationstate, in turn is defunct. Expect nothing better than a rerun of – say – the French Third Republic from what we have now. Anticipate worse things. Meanwhile, the question is: what next? To discern what new things may be possible, viable, should be our task – messy, uncertain, problematic, tentative – but not futile.

    And 150 years from now, when some later day Talleyrand quips that these are neither United nor States nor American, our work will be what shall emerge.

    1. FM: It simply does not follow that just because some things are futile, all things are.

    2. Then your statement, “You have just decided to give up” is unwarranted.

      Methinks there will be some sort of public thing out there, regardless.

    3. Dear FM:

      Republic derives from the Latin, “Res Publica,” which translates “public thing.”


  2. Great post. Thank you Fabius Maximus. There is a wonderful little book called “Lessons of History” by Will and Ariel Durant that you and your other readers might find of great interest. After writing about three dozen books on history (in different periods of time and different parts of the world), the Durants re-read everything they had written and then wrote this little gem of a book.

    In their chapter on Economic History, they note that the biggest pattern of economic history, whatever the time or place, is this: money concentrates in a small number of hands and then there is either a violent revolution or a benign redistribution (e.g., Roosevelt’s New Deal, sort of…). At that time the money will go out to the periphery for awhile, into many hands. But then, the money will begin an inexorable march back to concentrate into a small number of hands again.

    I think this is the reason that the crypto currencies are freaking out the 1% – and they’re trying to capture BitCoin (as the Big Mama of crypto currencies) into the stock market. But the code is in Open Source….so the kitty has escaped from the sack…. Things will get interesting now.

    All the best – may we find a great way out of this huge mess, in time to repair biosphere damage so we can continue the Great Experiment…

  3. >>How sad. If these do not incite you to action, then why read them?

    What, exactly, are you suggesting a citizen do?

    1. I gathered from your blogs that you’re suggesting:

      “The basic elements of a citizens’ responsibility in a republic are voting, contributing time and money to candidates’ campaigns (think of the widow’s mite), and lobbying others (like writing posts or comments on the Internet).”

      I was thinking that I largely do all of this, and that the other essential element involved in that is research. Your second blog didn’t disappoint in that regard:

      “(5) Attend one political meeting every month, with a diverse group of people. Neighbors are great candidates. Not just people like you, so that all re-enforce and cheer each other’s beliefs (that way lies social strife and fanaticism). Best would be a small group meeting to discuss US domestic or foreign policy, ideally led by somebody acknowledged by both groups as some form of leader. Some precepts:

      (a) Make your goal to listen and learn, not to preach.
      (b) Search for common values, the starting point for politics.
      (c) Focus on facts. A generation of intensive propaganda will make this difficult; these shackles are welded tight on us (breaking them is a task for our children). Debate is futile; looks for areas of agreement!
      (d) Find common goals.
      (e) Update (per Pluto’s comment): stay cool; whenever possible applaud those with whom you disagree. It’s about us winning, not you winning.
      (f) Then and only then discuss policies.
      (g) Avoid the search for enemies. To divide the people is the age-old tool of elites, and designating heretics and apostates is the first step.”

      Shoot, and I thought all of the above was just my hobby. ;-)

      I have a hard time not being snarky to the worst of the comment board trolls, but I do especially like this statement, “It’s about us winning, not you winning.”

      1. Loki,

        Nice suyog might be giving me too much credit, as these are just ideas on a sketch pad, not a plan. Esp these are not intended to be seen sequentially. Like an OODA loop, these are intended to combine to provide a perspective — like colors on a pallet that combine to form something different.

        (F) is nor corrent. All of these are discussing politics, as the result comes from people working together – not like Athena springing forth from Zeus’ head. I think the point was these are starting points for taking action, the equivalent of planning before starting a long journey.

      1. Pluto,

        The 1% are beyond paying for piece-work. They buy people. Courtiers. Servants. Retainers.

        They pay very well. As wealth, income, and power concentrate in America working for the 1% becomes the primary means of upward mobility, as it was in western society for centuries. That will become one of their two great levers over us, even greater than their control over our economic and political systems.

        The other lever is their ability to strike down opponents. To crush almost anyone. The combination of carrot and the stick.

    1. Your point is well taken in general, FM.

      I make an exception in the case of the Newt because he is remarkably inconsistent for somebody who is extremely intelligent and constantly seeks attention and money. Some of his comments are innovative and creative but most are advertisements for the highest bidder.

      It seems to me that he would be best off serving as a shill for the 1% but he doesn’t seem to be able to consistently stay on message

  4. I think we have forgotten the power the 99% (those that can vote) have over the senate and the senate has impeachment power over the SCOTUS. Any senator not willing to impeach a few members of the SCOTUS should be voted out of office.

    The campaign would have to be an internet/social media campaign to get everyone on board as the MSM will not help with this.

    1. Editor,
      (1) Maybe you think that killing any semblance of democracy by replacing one vote by one person with multiple votes with dollars is OK. I think it is treason to a democratic country.
      (2) Maybe you think that there is no voter fraud and controlling who can vote by color, class, and wealth is OK. I think that is treasonous to a democratic country.
      (3) Maybe you think that unlimited contributions to multiple candidates are not permitting bribery. I would disagree, I think it is treason to rule that the wealthy can bribe candidates or even give the appearance of bribing candidates. Maybe you think there is no appearance of corruption or bribery; I think most of us would disagree.

      1. acomfort,

        When you define define treason or “high crimes” to be disagreement with you on political questions, you have become an aspiring tyrant. If a majority of Americans come to agree with you, the Republic will have died.

        It’s happened. See the late Roman Republic for the classical example, one the Founders will well-aware of.

    2. Editor,
      In today’s world, a candidate’s chances of winning an election are highly influenced by the amount of money that is spent on their campaign.

      “A republic is a form of government where citizens have the power and choose representatives to represent them.” Webster’s

      I see the SCOTUS as moving the US away from citizens having the power to choose representatives unless you can define citizens as the 1%.

      If an outside force came in and took away the 99%’s power to choose their representatives, that to me, would be a high crime. If SCOTUS did the same thing, that to me would be treason to the republic and they are doing it.

      If a foreign organization bribed our politicians for specific favors, that would be a high crime committed by the foreign organization and the politicians who accepted the bribes. SCOTUS has made it possible for international/foreign corporations to legally give the appearance of bribing politicians. That to me is treason.

      Any US entity that made this OK by changing laws, such as SCOTUS, would be an act of treason. The SCOTUS’s argument is that there is not now any appearance of corruption, do you agree?

      By allowing international corporations, who have subsidiaries almost everywhere, to spend unlimited amounts on US campaigns, the 99% are competing with the world of corporations to influence the actions of the elected politician.

      If a foreign-chartered corporation wants to invest in a U.S. political campaign, can they? I haven’t seen this specifically addressed. If not allowed, can they just setup a new small U.S. corporation? This could be passed by SCOTUS with the argument that we shouldn’t squelch the speech of any person, in any country.

      1. Acomfort,

        I don’t believe you have read the recent Supreme Court decision. You don’t need to agree with it to consider it a matter of politics, not treason..

        The Founders well knew the history of using Treason as a tool to suppress politics. If you legitimate it, I will bet big it is used against us before it’s used against the 1% and their servants.

    3. Editor,
      I may have lost your meaning of “using treason as a tool to suppress politics.”
      Are you saying that by definition politics or political decisions cannot be treason?

      If so, if a traitor commits treason and the SCOTUS does the same thing with rulings, is the SCOTUS’s decisions not treason because they are now politics?

      Is it in possible in your mind for the SCOTUS to make any decisions that would be treason?

      Or are all of their decisions by definition political and not treason?

  5. Fabius,
    Do you believe that any necessarily large assembly of people willing to participate in civil unrest on the scale of the Civil War would be able to operate with the subtleties of your last reply to acomfort in mind?

    Not everyone gets a rush of revolutionary libido at the mention of classical republican virtue, thinking about thinking, or OODA loops (I do!).

    1. John,

      That is in a sense a key question, and the answer drives the tactics of any successful reform movement. Here are a few thoughts (not an answer).

      Willingness of large numbers to act is a RESULT of a reform movement’s actions, not a pre-condition.

      Americans have always been willing to act when they feel the need. The unions had to fight often to win rights up to the New Deal.

      God knows, we have had race riots in large numbers, by whites and blacks, since before the civil war.

      The a Vietnam antiwar and Gay Rights movements, the Suffragettes, the Animal Rights protests, the Greens — it is a long list of Americans willing to act.

      I see reason to believe we are less than we were. We just lack a leadership cadre, IMO. And an intellectual foundation to build upon.

    1. Winston,

      Thanks for this tip!

      Lots of good work being done — finally on this. Three years ago anyone mentioning the ruling oligarchy was denounce as class warrior. Now that they’re entrenched its OK to say the obvious.

      Other articles.

    1. Winston,

      I have not read it, but the theory is IMO likely. Finance is a useful cog in the system, but like finance and universities have grown to become parasitic on the broad society — slipping the feedback mechanisms that restrain their size.

      Of the three, finance is the easiest to fix. The 1973-1982 bear market — itself part of the 1964-1982 stagnation, which was in turn part of the far longer bear market in terms of real prices — cut the sector by very roughly 1/3 — and the most over grown parts by 2/3.

  6. I have a feeling the market rigging etc are desperate actions to keep finance going and not a sign of strength.

    By the way, you may find article below of interest:
    Mentions continuity of certain people/ links turning up in various events through the years. It also mentions something FDR said about banking having power over Govt since time of Andrew Jackson (which confirms what Prins has pointed out in her book)!

    From article below an excerpt: “The inclusion of Wall Street conforms with Franklin Roosevelt’s observation in 1933 to his friend Col. E.M. House that “The real truth … is, as you and I know, that a financial element in the larger centers has owned the Government ever since the days of Andrew Jackson.”

    The American Deep State, Deep Events, and Off-the-Books Financing“, Peter Dale Scott, World News Daily, 7 April 2014

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