More Money in Politics: Open the Floodgates (McCutcheon Decision)

The Times reports:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday continued its abolition of limits on election spending, striking down a decades-old cap on the total amount any individual can contribute to federal candidates in a two-year election cycle.

The ruling, issued near the start of a campaign season, will very likely increase the role money plays in American politics. …

The court’s 88-page decision reflected sharply different visions of the meaning of the First Amendment and the role of government in regulating elections, with the majority deeply skeptical of government efforts to control participation in politics, and the minority saying that such oversight was needed to ensure a functioning democracy. …

In a dissent from the bench, Justice Stephen G. Breyer called the majority opinion a disturbing development that raised the overall contribution ceiling to “the number infinity.”

“If the court in Citizens United opened a door,” he said, “today’s decision may well open a floodgate.”

Juridical matters aside, there are basic conceptual flaws in the claims made by the McCutcheon decision, which builds off of the Citizens United ruling. If money equals speech, then, on First Amendment grounds, it cannot be constrained. But money is distributed throughout society in extremely unequal ways, while political speech, conventionally defined, resides in equal proportion among individuals.

The Times continues:

In his written opinion, Justice Breyer said Wednesday’s decision would allow “a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign.”

This means that individuals, if they have enough cash to contribute to a campaign, can wield enormous power over candidate positions and over electoral outcomes. A recent, flagrant example of this is Chris Christie’s apology to a major campaign funder, Sheldon Adelson, who objected to the terminology Christie used when describing a trip to the Middle East. The point is that Sheldon holds the power to control Christie’s use of language because, in his capacity as a major funder, he holds a key to electoral success.

This is the opposite of democracy, in which individuals hold equal power to influence political outcomes, independent of their personal wealth. Following this reasoning, the Supreme Court decision is a major blow to democracy.

If we seek a stronger democracy, the US desperately needs strong reform of the funding system to restore political outcomes to democratic processes, not funding processes.

The Times editorializes:

like other rulings by the Roberts court that have chipped away at campaign-finance regulations in recent years, the McCutcheon decision is less about free speech than about giving those few people with the most money the loudest voice in politics. …

As former Senator Alan Simpson testified in an earlier campaign-finance case, “Who, after all, can seriously contend that a $100,000 donation does not alter the way one thinks about — and quite possibly votes on — an issue?”

In short, the McCutcheon decision brings us further in the direction of a government for, of, and by the wealthy.

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One Response to More Money in Politics: Open the Floodgates (McCutcheon Decision)

  1. msys says:

    Well said. I agree; we need severe campaign finance reform before our elections can even approximate a reflection of the people. This decision was a huge step in the wrong direction.

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