Editorial: Justices blind to money in politics
The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling just dropped the other shoe — and it was a real clodhopper — when it comes to campaign finance regulations and further solidifying the very bad idea that money equals speech.
In McCutcheon v. FEC, the five justices that make up the conservative side of the court overturned the aggregate federal campaign donations cap. That limit for the 2013-2014 election cycle limited donors to $123,200 to candidates, national party committees and certain political committees, with a limit of $48,600 on what individuals can give to candidates.
Now a donor can give an unlimited amount throughout the country, as long as it’s for an individual candidate.
Combined with the 2010 Citizens United ruling that did away with campaign spending limits for corporations and unions, the court opened the door wider to the “loudest” — that is, wealthiest — voices. In the 21st century, this means having more and more ability to “shout” your message on radio, television and the Internet.
Can these five justices, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and his gang of four — Samuel A. Alito Jr., Anthony M. Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — be so blind to the many shades of influence that money plays in political campaign, beyond bribery aimed at a specific individual for a specific purpose?
Yet in his plurality opinion, Roberts wrote, “The government has a strong interest, no less critical to our democratic system, in combating corruption and its appearance.
“We have, however, held that this interest must be limited to a specific kind of corruption — quid pro quo corruption — in order to ensure that the government’s efforts do not have the effect of restricting the First Amendment right of citizens to choose who shall govern them.”
Justice Stephen Breyer disagreed, as we do, writing in the dissenting minority opinion, “Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, today’s decision eviscerates our nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”
Do the justices who struck down what had been established in 1976 case of Buckley v. Valeo, which resulted in limits on campaign contributions, really think that influence and corruption has to be in your face and blatant to distort our democratic system?
A more realistic view contained in Breyer’s dissent points to access and points out that this is what money buys: “Where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard. Insofar as corruption cuts the link between political thought and political action, a free marketplace of political ideas loses its point.”
All of this reminds us of a Danish proverb: “One bag of money is stronger than two bags of truth.”
The American public and Congress cannot let this decision stand ... we urge all parties to move toward a constitutional amendment to set matters right.