Democracy died at 10:30 a.m. EDT April 2, 2014, when the Supreme Court posted its 5-4 ruling for unlimited total political campaign contributions in McCutcheon et al vs. Federal Election Commission.
Democracy had been in a coma since December 9, 2000, when the court hijacked the presidential election, thwarting the will of millions of citizen voters, and appointed George W. Bush to be president over Al Gore, who had obtained more votes.
The ruling signaled that the court would continue to equate money with speech and would knock down limits to campaign contributions. Previously, the court's most infamous ruling on the subject was Citizens United vs. FEC, which allowed corporations to spend money on elections.
Democracy was 227 years old at time of death as marked from the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, Sept. 17, 1787. The principles of democracy are asserted in the first words of the Constitution: "We, the People of the United States..."
The Declaration of Independence, signed July 4, 1776, had outlined key tenets of democracy and the basis for the establishment of a new nation. The principles that "all men are created equal" and that government derives its power from the "consent of the governed" as written by Thomas Jefferson were trumped, however, by the recent Supreme Court ruling which legalizes the buying of elections and politicians by those who spend the most money. Thus, the court nullified the will and consent of millions of U.S. citizen voters.
by Lynn Evans in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, April 7, 2014
In the spirit of the “All men are created equal” clause in the Declaration of Independence, our Founding Fathers included in Article 1 of the US Constitution a prohibition against aristocracy: “No title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States.” And to make certain that all people have the right to influence their government, the First Amendment prohibits Congress from “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Nevertheless, Chief Justice John Roberts and the four more conservative justices of the US Supreme Court in their McCutcheon ruling last Wednesday abolished federal and any applicable state limits to how much one individual can give to political campaigns. By equating money with speech, the Roberts Court enabled Big Money donors to drown out the voices of everyday Americans with a deluge of campaign cash.
The one donor limit retained by the ruling was a cap of $2,600 per candidate per election cycle. However, by abolishing the total political contribution amount, the Roberts ruling allows big donors to give unlimited amounts to political parties and other fundraising groups that can then funnel unlimited money to any candidate.
Since 1976, the Supreme Court had drawn a distinction between direct campaign contributions – which the Court said could lead to both the corruption of government and the appearance of corruption – and money spent independent of political campaigns. However, the line between spending by independent groups like the SuperPAC American Crossroads and candidates’ official campaigns has become increasingly blurred in recent election years.
Complicating the issue is the flood of so-called Dark Money from 501(c)(4) “social welfare organizations” not required to disclose their donors and basically free from spending limits. These groups have become increasingly partisan and increasingly powerful, using their war chests both to bash the candidates they oppose and to shape the campaign debate to favor the candidates they back.
This vast flood of money into political campaigns is happening at a time when Americans are increasingly concerned about the very real divide between the super rich and the average American worker. Too many working Americans are worried about making the house payment, buying gas, and putting food on the table; they simply do not have the means to contribute even the $123,200 limit struck down by the McCutcheon decision.
That does not mean, however, that voters are unaware of what money can do. “Buying Face Time” and “Pay to Play” have entered the American lexicon. We all know it looks like corruption and smells like corruption, even those of us without deep enough pockets to play the game.
Both the Roberts decision and the blistering dissent by Justice Stephen Breyer call on Congress to revisit campaign finance reform, but that is unlikely to happen with this Congress, when so many of our elected representatives see themselves benefitting from the current system.
As any student of politics can tell you, the only way to counter out-sized amounts of money in politics is with larger numbers of people. Especially people committed to using the ballot box to get their elected representatives’ attention.
It is about time for the vast majority of Americans who see both the corruption and the appearance of corruption that result from unlimited campaign contributions to say Enough. Our Constitution makes clear that rule by the elite few is un-American. Our history is full of examples of how our system of government has worked to curb and limit the influence of wealth and power; it is time to do it again.
Lynn Evans is a past Jackson Public School Board member and a regularly contributing columnist.