For those who believe that “money” really is “the root of all evil,” they are going to get an opportunity to test that theory during the months between now and November. We will see huge amounts of money being put into political races during that span of time. The floodgates have been opened by the U.S. Supreme Court and the money will start to pour in. On April 3, the high court removed another limit on election spending when the justices voted 5-4 to remove the cap on the total amount any individual can contribute to federal campaigns in a two-year election cycle. This follows the 2010 decision in Citizens United that eliminated limits on independent campaign spending by huge corporations. If I told you that decision granted constitutional rights to corporations – lifeless structures – run by humans, would you believe it?
Essentially, this new ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission means that a single donor can make huge financial donations in “limited contributions” to political parties, individual candidates, and political action committees (PACs). Those in favor of the ruling say the change upholds donors’ First Amendment right to Free Speech by allowing them to support as many candidates as they feel share their views, literally putting their money where their mouth is. But the voices of ordinary citizens in elections have been pretty well neutralized if not eliminated.
Supporters point out the ruling affects aggregate limits and not base limits on contributions from individuals to candidates. Base limits currently hold individual contributions to $2,600 per candidate, per election; $32,400 to political party committees per year; and $5,000 per PAC per year.
But the ruling did say that overall limits of $48,600 by individuals every two years for contributions to all federal candidates violated the First Amendment. The ruling also says separate aggregate limits on contributions to political party committees, currently capped at $74,600, also violate the First Amendment.
Those in opposition to the decision, which include this writer, say this decision essentially dismantles campaign finance laws and undermines political equality. Political power is put in the hands of the select few people with all of the money. I totally agree with that view. We should be doing everything possible to reduce wild and uncontrolled spending in political races. Instead we are turning the keys to government over to the super rich and powerful. In an excellent and well-reasoned dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote:
It understates the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institutions. It creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign. . . . Where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard.
Public Citizen, the Consumer Advocacy Group, has fought hard for reasonable campaign finance reform in Congress. Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, had harsh words for the ruling. He predicts a dire outcome in the political arena. In a statement, Weissman said:
This is truly a decision establishing plutocrat rights. The Supreme Court today holds that the purported right of a few hundred superrich individuals to spend outrageously large sums on campaign contributions outweighs the national interest in political equality and a government free of corruption.
The case was brought by an Alabama businessman, Shaun McCutcheon, who challenged the aggregate contribution limits. McCutcheon, who had the strong backing of the Republican National Committee, argued the limits violated his First Amendment rights and served no anti-corruption role.
The majority opinion was penned by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia. The dissent was written by Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The ruling comes at the start of the election cycle, which is perfect timing for those with deep pockets and selective political needs in Washington. Should we just go ahead and hang out the “For Sale” signs on the lawns of the congressional buildings, the national Capitol building, and the White House? What do you think?
Sources: New York Times, Huffington Post, ABC News
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