SCOTUS Hands More Power to Oligarchs

SCOTUS Hands More Power to Oligarchs April 3, 2014

The Supreme Corp…sorry, I meant Court…doubled down on their ruling in Citizens United (and the even more important 4th Circuit case Free Speech Now) and all but handed what little was left of a genuine democracy over to wealthy individuals and corporations. The New York Times reports on the ruling in McCutcheon v FEC:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a major campaign finance decision, striking down some limits on federal campaign contributions for the first time. The ruling, issued near the start of a campaign season, will change and most likely increase the already large role money plays in American politics.

The decision, by a 5-to-4 vote along ideological lines, with the Court’s more conservative justices in the majority, was a sequel of sorts to Citizens United, the 2010 decision that struck down limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions. But that ruling did nothing to affect the other main form of campaign finance regulation: caps on direct contributions to candidates and political parties.

Wednesday’s decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, No. 12-536, addressed that second kind of regulation.

It did not affect familiar base limits on contributions from individuals to candidates, currently $2,600 per candidate in primary and general elections. But it said that overall limits of $48,600 by individuals every two years for contributions to all federal candidates violated the First Amendment, as did separate aggregate limits on contributions to political party committees, currently $74,600.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for four justices in the controlling opinion, said the First Amendment required striking down the limits. “There is no right in our democracy more basic,” he wrote, “than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.”

Dissenting from the bench, Justice Stephen G. Breyer called the decision a blow to the First Amendment and American democracy. “If the court in Citizens United opened a door,” he said, “today’s decision may well open a floodgate.”

Gerry Hebert of the Campaign Legal Center, one of the top campaign finance experts in the country who spent decades in the DOJ, blasts the ruling:

The decision provides a roadmap for the wholesale evasion of the base contribution limits. Candidates will solicit million-dollar checks, contributors will write them and the pay-to-play system in Washington will only become more direct. The Roberts Court has exponentially increased the already-significant political influence of the very richest while further undermining the influence of the overwhelming majority of Americans who could not afford to write checks to politicians for even a fraction of the former aggregate contribution limit of more than $120,000 per election cycle.

The nation’s Founders believed that Members of Congress would be representative of all Americans. James Madison observed, for example, that the popular government they were forming would be one where our elected Members of Congress would be beholden to the many, not just the wealthy few. The Court’s decision today is a body blow to the principle that our democracy is a self-participatory one, where “We the People” get to decide who represents us. Instead, it’s now “We the Wealthy.”

That today’s decision uses the First Amendment as a justification makes a mockery of the Constitution. The First Amendment was intended to facilitate the exchange of ideas and information among all of us and thereby encourage our informed participation in our government. This decision turns the First Amendment on its head by enabling those with the biggest check books to gain even more influence and access to our elected officials. In doing so, it harms the ability of ordinary Americans to engage in greater and more meaningful political participation. It defies both logic and common sense to suggest that the wealthiest Americans are lacking in “speech opportunities” because of the aggregate contribution limits, which have been in place for decades.

The fig leaf the Court used to justify Citizens United was the proposition that spending by outside groups could not possibly corrupt or even lead to the appearance of corruption. It wasn’t true when they wrote it and now we have two election cycles worth of evidence to the contrary. But today’s decision in McCutcheon did not even bother with a fig leaf. An activist Court simply discarded decades of its own precedents and the common sense principle that unchecked and direct political contributions give rise to indebted – and often corrupted – officeholders and candidates.

This passage from the ruling leaves me simply gobsmacked:

Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to such quid pro quo corruption. Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner ‘influence over or access to’ elected officials or political parties.

He can’t really believe that, can he? That’s more than naivete, it’s delusional. And no one who has been around Washington, DC or any state capitol for 5 minutes could possibly believe it. The influence of big money in elections is the single biggest problem in this country because it prevents us from solving nearly every other problem. And it just became even worse. Serf’s up!

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