Campaign Finance

Moneyed Speech

IN ITS SEEMINGLY endless quest to attack the few remaining pillars of our campaign finance laws, the Supreme Court issued a brazen ruling in McCutcheon vs. FEC, striking down the aggregate contribution limits that capped the overall amount individuals could give to candidates and political parties each election cycle. As it was with Citizens United—the 2010 decision that said corporations and unions could spend unlimited amounts—the court’s April ruling was striking not only in its naiveté about the effect of money in politics, but in its naiveté about the nature of the American experiment itself.

Whereas Citizens United focused on the nature of corporate spending in elections, this decision cuts straight to the chase. Should wealthy people have a greater ability to fund political parties and candidates—and benefit from the greater access and influence that awards them? The court sent a clear message about where it stands: Yes, they should. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, even cloaked the decision in pious language, stating, “if the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades ... it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.”

Traditionally the court has asserted that the government has an interest in preventing corruption and the appearance of corruption, the latter in order to sustain public faith in the democratic process. However, the McCutcheon decision defines “corruption” so narrowly that the original statute is essentially useless. The government can no longer prevent the appearance of corruption, and it would have a difficult time proving “quid-pro-quo corruption” occurred in the first place

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The Prerequisite of the Common Good

Common good concept, Gunnar Pippel / Shutterstock.com

Common good concept, Gunnar Pippel / Shutterstock.com

The day after the 2012 election brought a great feeling of relief. Most of us, whether our candidates won or lost, were so weary of what elections have become that we were just glad the process was over. Many were disappointed that dysfunctional and bitterly partisan politics in Washington, D.C., had undermined their deep desires for “hope” and “change.” Politics has severely constrained those possibilities by focusing on blame instead of solutions, and winning instead of governing. And, as the most expensive election in American history just showed, the checks have replaced all the balances. 

But the election results produced neither the salvation nor the damnation of the country, as some of the pundits on both sides seemed to suggest. 

The results of the presidential election showed how dramatically a very diverse America is changing; people are longing for a vision of the common good that includes everyone. As one commentator put it “the demographic time bomb” has now been set off in American politics — and getting mostly white, male, and older voters is no longer enough to win elections, as the Romney campaign learned on Tuesday.

Money Unlimited

A good history in The New Yorker of attempts at regulating campaign finance leading to the Citizens United case before the Supreme Court and how Chief Justice Roberts orchestrated the decision:

"The decision followed a lengthy and bitter behind-the-scenes struggle among the Justices that produced both secret unpublished opinions and a rare reargument of a case. The case, too, reflects the aggressive conservative judicial activism of the Roberts Court. It was once liberals who were associated with using the courts to overturn the work of the democratically elected branches of government, but the current Court has matched contempt for Congress with a disdain for many of the Court’s own precedents."

Last evening, retired Justice John Paul Stevens, who led the dissent in the case, commented on it in a speech at the University of Arkansas. Asking why those with the most money are permitted to dominate the airwaves, he said:

"During the televised debates among the Republican candidates for the presidency, the moderators made an effort to allow each speaker an equal opportunity to express his or her views. Both the candidates and the audience would surely have thought the value of the debate to have suffered if the moderator had allocated the time on the basis of the speakers' wealth, or it they had held an auction allowing the most time to the highest bidder."

Yet thanks to the Court, that is essentially what we have in this election.  

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