Last week Sheldon Adelson was happily shopping for new candidates to bankroll, and this week the Supreme Court has ruled that the wealthy can pour exponentially more cash directly into our political system than they could before. If you're a billionaire looking to buy political influence, this is your month.
But if you're anyone else, the news is not good. In its McCutcheon v. FEC decision yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to strike down the overall, or "aggregate," limit on direct campaign contributions. The old limit on how much wealthy donors could give directly to candidates, PACs, and parties each cycle was already a whopping $123,200 -- more than double our country's median household income. In other words, the old limit was primarily a rule affecting the Sheldon Adelsons of the country.
But now that the overall limit has been struck down, instead of putting thousands directly into our elections, the nation's wealthiest can put millions.
In his dissent, Justice Breyer captured the devastating nature of this decision for our country: "Taken together with Citizens United... today's decision eviscerates our Nation's campaign finance laws." Or as Representative Ted Deutch said yesterday at a rally organized by People For the American Way in front of the Supreme Court, "It is a dark day for democracy when the Supreme Court rules that the wealthy don't have enough influence in our elections."
Shaun McCutcheon, the wealthy plaintiff in the case bearing his name, can hardly wait to seize that influence. When asked yesterday if he'll be spending more than he did in previous cycles now that the limits are struck down, McCutcheon couldn't hide his eagerness: "Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I'm well on the way to meeting [the old limits] already, so certainly I will now. Absolutely."
McCutcheon's excitement betrays what this case was really about all along: giving the wealthy an even larger megaphone in our democracy. The "free speech" ostensibly being protected in this case wasn't the right of you and I to be heard, but the "right" of the wealthy to drown out everyone else's voices with their multimillion-dollar amplifiers. As Senator Chuck Schumer quipped yesterday, "I don't think the Koch brothers lack for free speech."
Indeed they don't. And there is little doubt that like with Citizens United, this decision will intensify the flow of what Salon's Josh Eidelson calls "one-percenter campaign cash" into our political system. Unfortunately, the more that happens, the more the super-rich can see their preferred policies reflected in the national political agenda. Our nation's wealthiest have fundamentally different views on policies like unemployment benefits, minimum wage, and health coverage than do everyday Americans. When they can essentially buy political influence, this political inequality fosters more economic inequality. It's a self-perpetuating cycle: handing more political power to moneyed interests helps them stay on top in a system already tilted in favor of the rich.
If there is a silver lining to this deeply distressing decision, it is the immense mobilization we've seen in response. Yesterday alone, more than 140 rallies to protest the decision happened in cities and towns across the country, from Maine to Hawaii to the steps of the Supreme Court. Simply put, the American people won't stand for the Supreme Court's ongoing attack on our democracy. From pushing for a constitutional amendment to put the power of regulating elections back in the hands of the people, to working to ensure our courts are made up of judges who care about defending democracy, to advocating for fair elections legislation and disclosure laws, it's clear that Americans aren't going to sit idly by while our democracy is dismantled.
We're going to fight for it.
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