On the day McCutcheon v FEC was heard before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), I sat down for an interview with Noam Chomsky to ask him about the case and a host of other issues.
Imagine David and Charles Koch or George Soros stepping into any political race and directly showering their pet candidate with however much money it will take them to win. The result would be an assortment of politicians utterly enthralled by the ultra wealthy. It is a nightmare scenario for our democratic republic.
Since the five Justices remain on the Court who decided a corporation's right to spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns is protected by the 1st Amendment in Citizens United v FEC, there is reason to believe that in their impending decision in McCutcheon v FEC, SCOTUS will proceed on the grounds of free speech to do away with any limits on donations directly to parties and candidates. Whatever pretense of free and fair U.S. elections is still intact would disappear in another decisive victory for the .1 percent.
Yet there is a spark of hope in my soul that the Justices will realize this danger and decide that siding with Shaun McCutcheon would be a step too far. Perhaps Justice Kennedy will repent.
One way or the other it's going to be a huge story. Big headlines will be printed proclaiming that either the 1 or the 99 percent have won a major victory. Pundits will pontificate about what it means for the future of Democrats and Republicans until some tragedy or celebrity drama pushes it out of the spotlight. It'll be talked about in platitudes during the run up to election day, and if we're being honest with ourselves, that talk is not going to change who gets elected. The McCutcheon decision will bring either outrage or joy, but either way it will fade out of awareness except in the minds of good governance advocates.
The problem is whichever way the Supreme Court goes with this decision, the bigger story that's never in the headlines is the same. Even if McCutcheon's complaint is denied, we will remain in a post-Citizens United world in which corporations and their 1 percent masters have enormous sway in elections. Even before Citizens United, the story was the same. Money talks in our political system. The public is ignored. At this point it's so obvious that we just accept it.
Our only real hope for democracy is that we get the money out of politics entirely and establish a system of publicly funded elections. In a world with an unbiased and independent media befitting our 1st Amendment, the big story would not be who won in the McCutcheon case, it would be that there are ways of creating a democratic society, and it would use this case to demonstrate if and how we are failing or succeeding to that end.
This is the real irony of the situation. Free speech has been used by the Supreme Court to give immense power to the wealthiest members of our society. Meanwhile the "free press" fails miserably to meet the civic responsibility enshrined in the 1st Amendment. Let's not hold our breath waiting for this to change. The money in politics is a cash cow for the media.
The irony and blame do not belong solely to the media, of course. The citizens, we the people of the United States of America, could stand to exercise our 1st Amendment rights to a greater extent, too.
We have the numbers. Let us freely assemble, muster our forces, and occupy politics from the bottom up. Put your name in the hat for city or town council. Start a blog, plan street theater, get arrested and be heard. By all means, we should start by reversing the effects of Citizens United. Municipal and statewide resolutions calling on Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution to say that corporations aren't people and political campaign spending isn't protected speech can get the ball rolling. Amending State Constitutions via voter initiative or legislative referendum to this same effect as I have proposed in Rhode Island is another step. Whatever else, let us not cede the political sphere to the corporations, whether they are people in the eyes of the Supreme Court or not.