Five years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations are welcome to the same free speech rights that are allotted to individuals and can therefore spend freely on direct political advocacy.
To those unfamiliar with the topic, Citizens United essentially opened the flood gates for dark money to flow into the Washington electoral circuit. Within the five years since this decision the amount of money spent on political campaigns has steadily increased each election cycle. The most recent midterm elections cost $3.7 billion dollars.
Why should this matter to Christians?
1. Divine dignity is silenced.
The Center for Responsive Politics reported that only “666,773 individuals donated more than $200 to campaigns in the 2014 election cycle." What does this mean? Only 0.2 percent of the population funded the elections. Only the wealthiest Americans, through Super PAC funding and private corporation contributions have influence over the electoral state. The voice of the average American is almost completely silenced because they do not have financial influence. This becomes an issue of morality when we see each citizen as an individual with divine dignity. When the voice of the individual is silenced, the voice of the Divine is also silenced because only the economically elite are heard.
2. Truth is hidden.
The phrase “dark money” has become common vernacular in post-Citizens United politics. Dark-money groups, organizations that do not disclose their donors, have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into independent expenditure campaigns. Dark money groups can receive “unlimited corporate, individual, or union contributions that they do not have to make public.” In the 2006 elections, organizations that do not disclose donors contributed $5.2 million to campaigns. Yet, in 2012, two years after theCitizens United decision, dark money groups contributed well over $300 million to finance campaigns. There can be no truth when money is in the dark. There is no way to bring the light of the world out of the darkness when the truth of where money is coming from is hidden so deeply in darkness.
3. Justice is not present.
The voice of God rests in the deliberation of people. Citizens United has allowed our political system to silence the divine dignity of individuals through concealing the truth of where power is held. For justice to truly flourish, democracy must be driven by the voice of the people. Machiavelli claims in his famous Discourses on Livy, “that the republic governed by word and persuasion — in sum, ruled by public speech — is almost sure to realize the common good of its citizens.” Justice for the common good is not considered when only 0.2 of the population is allowed to influence political matters.
4. Compassion is forgotten.
Jesus spoke in Luke, “when you give a luncheon of dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” What would happen if political candidates followed these words? What would happen if rather than hosting elite fundraising galas in Washington, political figures invited the least of these to their banquets and addressed their issues? Post-Citizens United politics has pushed the needs of the poor further and further out of the political sphere. The idea of compassion for all is left behind in a world where one’s value is determined by the amount of money one can give.
5. Righteousness is distorted.
The entities that contribute to political campaigns almost always have a specific private interest. In the 2014 midterm elections alone, the oil and gas industry gave $67,910 on average to each Republican member of Congress, with some members receiving much more financial support. When special interest groups fund candidates, it is logical that protecting those interests becomes high priority for the candidate. In the book of Isaiah we read, “Do not take bribes, for bribes blind the clear-sighted and upset the pleas of those who are in the right.” Citizens United has given bribes a place in the public square. In the times of the Old Testament and today, monetary bribes are catalysts for the distortion of righteousness.
Yesterday, on the fifth anniversary of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, protestors disrupted the Supreme Court by yelling in the back of the chamber, "One person, one vote," "We are the 99 percent," "Money is not speech," and "Overturn Citizens United." More than 200 additional protestors gathered in the snow-filled streets of Washington, D.C., outside of the Chamber of Commerce to declare that "democracy is not for sale.” As Christians, it is imperative to educate ourselves on the increasingly large role big money is playing in politics. We must protect dignity, demand truth, seek justice, act with compassion and call for righteousness.
Kaeley McEvoy is Campaigns Assistant for Sojourners.
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