McCutcheon vs FEC: Destroying Democracy $1 Million at a Time
“Americans need to take responsibility for government” – Steve Fair
Steve Fair’s article in the Tulsa World, by that title, was meant to describe how we should address the McCutcheon versus FEC Supreme Court ruling. However, it turned out to be a rationale for putting more money into politics and blaming the citizens for allowing it. The ruling furthered the damage done by Citizens United, which essentially ruled money was the same as speech, corporations were entitled to free speech, and corporations could express their political opinion by donating money. McCutcheon versus FEC essentially removed the restrictions on how much could be donated.
McCutcheon vs. FEC was supported by the Republican National Committee and applauded by Chairman Reince Priebus: “Today’s court decision is an important first step toward restoring the voice of candidates and party committees and a vindication for all those who support robust, transparent political discourse.” However, when someone speaks, we know who is speaking, while much of the money in politics is funneled through 501C(3) foundations and other tax-exempt organizations, which hides the identity of those giving the moneyand the amount given. So much for transparency.
Mr. Fair had three points to his article:
First, the Supreme Court got it right. The First Amendment trumps federal campaign laws. Americans have a constitutional right to participate in the political process at whatever level they want, whether it be volunteering for a candidate or contributing money to their campaign.
Second, it is indisputable that money rules in the political process. Candidates at all levels now must raise large sums of money to “get their message” to voters. State legislative and county candidates must solicit donors for money in order to be competitive in the political arena.
Third, big donors and political consultants are not to blame for money in politics. A common misconception is if big donors and political operatives were taken out of the process, big money in politics would dry up. That is simply not true. The reason we have so much money in politics is because we have an unengaged and ignorant electorate.
Equating money with speech means that those who donate large sums money have a much louder voice than the ordinary citizen. Money did have a role in the political process before, but it was limited so that an average citizen could at least make a reasonable donation. This ruling, and Citizens United , means that money will have even a larger role. Republican presidential candidates are already trekking to Las Vegas to be anointed by Sheldon Adelson. The third point blames an “unengaged and ignorant electorate” which seems to echo our Republican leader’s perception of American voters. Does it mean you’re “unengaged” if you can’t donate millions and that you are “ ignorant” if you can’t sort through all the propaganda, misinformation, and lies created by those with money.
Quid pro quo corruption: Chief Justice John Roberts tried to justify the decision when he wrote in the majority opinion. “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.”
By requiring proof of quid pro quo corruption,i.e. outright bribery, the decision fails to address the problem of indirect bribery. An example of that is the effect of ALEC in Oklahoma politics. ALEC is composed of about 300 corporations and special interest groups who supposedly help our legislators write model laws. Those laws, of course reflect the interests of the corporations and the special interest groups, often over those of the citizens. The legislators who are members and support ALEC’s goals are guaranteed the support of the special interests and their money in the next election. Not only does ALEC provide money, but it also provides propaganda support such as letters to the editor of newspapers and op-ed pieces that favor the special interest’s viewpoint – and praise the politicians who support them. And, ALEC does not thrive on openness as it keeps its agendas, meetings, members, and proposed legislation secret.
Mr. Fair finished by emphasizing again that the voters are at fault, “ Ignorant voters believe candidate propaganda, and whichever candidate in a race that is the most effective at ‘marketing their message’ wins. America is a country founded on the principle of self-governance. If we have poor government, it’s our fault. If we have too much money in politics, it’s our fault. It’s time Americans took responsibility for the mess we call our government and quit blaming the system. ” He says, “ First, don’t just swallow a candidate’s propaganda without researching the facts. Stay engaged in your government at all levels 24/7/365. Second, hold elected officials and our government accountable. Trust, but verify. Once elected, watch what they do and not what they say.’’
Mr. Fair is right that much of the influence of money in politics could be overcome if voters were more informed, but they can’t research everything they read in the paper or hear on television. It is unrealistic to ask, as he does, that citizens spend 24/7/365 working to ensure that what they read is true. Only politicians and pundits have that kind of time to spend on politics.
Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the minority, said the decision “understates the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institutions. 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.” It is too bad that some Republicans see money as a way to gain power and the spoils of power, rather than seeing it as an impediment to democracy, which it is.
Frank Kennedy, in a post in the Tulsa World summed it up quite nicely,” Freedom of speech, guaranteed in the First Amendment, is not unqualified: one cannot falsely yell fire in a crowded theater. Nor should corporations and billionaires, under the guise of free speech, be able to nullify the concept of one man, one vote with mountains of cash to politicians. It is the job of the Supreme Court to decide among contending rights which have priority. This time the Roberts court got it wrong.” Again.
(c) 2014 J.C. Moore