Who are “they”? They are the five totally misguided justices of the Supreme Court.
And what is it that they have done to us? In January 2010, and again just recently, these justices, in their infinitesimal wisdom, have made “money talks” the Law of the Land. In these two actions the court has dismantled the past efforts of lawmakers to limit the dangerous effect of Big Money on politics.
In the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case in 2010, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, ruled that a federal law barring corporations from funding political campaign advertisements was unconstitutional, thereby giving them the power to invade the election process with unlimited amounts of money. That majority decision was based on the shaky premise that since corporations are associations of individuals, they should have the same free-speech rights as individuals, and that money is a form of free speech and therefore corporations should not be restricted in the exercise of their free speech by limiting their political campaign donations. But if corporations are associations of individuals, shouldn’t their donations be governed by the will of all of the stockholders instead of being dictated by only the wealthiest stockholders?
Then on April 2, in the McCutcheon vs. FEC case, the court essentially removed all limits on the total amount individuals can contribute to political campaigns. The arithmetic exposes the enormous impact this ruling can have.
Previously, donors could give up to $5,200 per two-year election cycle to no more than nine candidates, or a total of $46,800. Now a donor can give that same $5,200 to as many candidates as he chooses, which could amount to $2,433,600 if he chooses to give $5,200 to candidates in all 435 House and all 33 Senate races.
The Supreme Court majority has illogically assumed that since a mere $5,200 is not enough to corrupt a candidate, retaining that cap on donations will continue to protect against corruption. But removing the limit of nine on the number of candidates allows the legal $5,200 donations from just 100 wealthy donors to accumulate to $520,000 per candidate, and from 400 wealthy donors to exceed $2 million per candidate. How can anyone be so naïve?
The same naivety goes for the majority’s definition of corruption — that it must be a quid pro quo exchange of money for the right vote on a specific piece of legislation. Corruption is seldom as obvious as directly buying votes; it is invariably done under the table, and may not even directly involve money, but may be as simple as threatening to fund a flood of negative campaign advertisements.
Why do you think corporations and wealthy individuals are motivated to make huge donations in support of political campaigns? The obvious answer is that they regard it as a sound investment to secure favorable votes on legislation that will benefit them financially. Justice Stevens, in his minority opinion, makes it clear that corporations are artificial legal entities (not flesh and blood people) that have no voting rights, no morality or loyalty, and whose sole purpose is to generate profits. He wrote that the majority’s decision denies Congress the power to safeguard against the improper use of money to influence the outcome of elections, and threatens to undermine the integrity of elections and public confidence in the process.
Our Constitution opens with the words “We, the People,” and the framers had no intention that “we, the people” should include corporations. Indeed, they had a deep distrust of corporations, fearing that they and their stockholders would amass great wealth and control the press and elections.
Democracy is defined as a form of government in which supreme power is vested in the people, a state characterized by equality of rights and privileges and the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions. This means that all citizens should have equal political status regardless of heredity or wealth. By the simple action of giving corporations and the wealthy the power to dominate the election process with overwhelming amounts of money, the five-member court majority has gutted the finest democracy the world has ever seen, and converted it into a plutocracy — a government ruled by the power of money.
If we value democracy for ourselves and our children, it is up to us to take back our government by becoming active in political movements that have declared that to be their cause. Together we can do it, just like in 1776.
“As I See It” appears on the first and third Thursdays of the month. Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.