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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Supreme Court Doubles Down on Money as Speech

Pillars of the Supreme Court, Brandon Bourdages /

Pillars of the Supreme Court, Brandon Bourdages /

Yesterday, the Supreme Court struck down a law that limited the amount of money that an individual can contribute to political campaigns in a two-year election cycle, while upholding the limit that an individual can give to a single campaign in the same period. Previously, the law limited total individual contributions to all political campaigns to $48,600, while capping individual donations to a single campaign at $2,600.

The bottom line of yesterday's McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling is that there will be more money in politics, as the Court doubles down on the controversial 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling that allowed unlimited, anonymous expenditures by outside groups on election activities. Those with resources can now contribute up to $2,600 in all 435 congressional districts, more than 30 Senate races, and the presidential election, while at the same time giving millions more to Super PACs in support of these candidates.

The ruling will give more influence to corporate and labor lobbyists whose groups contribute to political campaigns. It is still illegal to give a donation that explicitly requests a legislative action in return for the contribution. But while politicians spend hours every week making phone calls soliciting contributions, they aren’t likely to forget who is funding their political future. When they hang up the phone and meet a lobbyist in their office whose group is funding their campaign, there is an unspoken understanding that the politician will be more open to the idea that lobbyist is presenting.

Citizen Action Making a Vital Difference in South Africa

South African flag over human face, Aleksandar Mijatovic /

South African flag over human face, Aleksandar Mijatovic /

In the Khayelitsha township near Cape Town, Baphumelele Respite Care Centre and Clinic serves abandoned children as well as ill adults. The staff faces daily the anguish of caring for babies and older children with serious congenital alcohol and drug syndrome or HIV/AIDS complications. A compassionate professional team and scores of volunteers provide education and rehabilitative residential care for countless patients and support to child headed homes.

A nurse friend on the staff gave witness to the disparity between day-to-day realities when faced with the inadequate response by government and societal leaders. It is stunningly the case in South Africa in the post-Mandela era. The clinic was started in 1989 by the local founding-director Rosealia Mashale, “Rosie,” who could not abandon vulnerable children to the trash heap.

Even with more than 25 similar agencies active in the sprawling location of mostly substandard housing and services there are thousands still in need.

Professor Jonathan Jansen, a trusted commentator in South Africa and author of We Need to Act, reminds citizens to leave their comfort zones and contribute to righting the wrongs of society

The (Anti)Gospel of Francis Underwood



"Did you think I’d forgotten you? Perhaps you hoped I had. Don’t waste a breath mourning ... For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain there can be no mercy. There is but one rule. Hunt or be hunted." - Francis Underwood

So ends the Shakespearean soliloquy at the end of the first episode of House of Card's highly anticipated second season.

Underwood lives by a very clear code of ethics: Get to the top and do whatever is necessary to achieve that goal. For him, the end always justifies the means. And so, although it certainly made me wince to see what happens in Season 2's opening episode, I was left in awe at the show’s brutal honesty of what a life purely committed to power potentially looks like.

Some scenes perhaps strike us viewers as far from reality (Washington can't really be that bad, can it?!?), but other vignettes are far more plausible. Consider Underwood’s commendation of a congresswoman for making the cold, calculated decision to “do what needed to be done” by wiping out entire villages with missile strikes.

Her “ruthless pragmatism” merely makes Underwood smirk.

Faith and Justice Connection: The Corruption of the Common Good

EDITOR'S NOTE: Each month, Sojourners send out a Faith & Justice Newsletter to folks who are interested in intersection of faith and social action. This month, we pulled content from the magazine and our blogs relating to the corruption of the common good. Enjoy.

This year’s election cycle is expected to cost more than $6 billion -- the most expensive in U.S. history. During election years, members of Congress spend on average 40 to 70 percent of their time fundraising. One quarter of one percent (.25 percent) of donors provided two-thirds of all the campaign cash spent during the 2010 election. In a recent article for Sojourners, Nick Penniman argues the problem is only going to get worse.

This influx of campaign cash and the influence of special interests in Washington should cause even the most idealistic citizen to ask whether our politicians have completely lost sight of the common good. If the basis of democracy is each person having an equal voice in government and having her or his interests weighed equally by elected officials, then democracy in the United States appears to be profoundly broken.

Christians need to wrestle with these questions and discern how we’re called to respond. While our hope resides firmly in Jesus Christ, we can’t ignore the power of government to protect the poor and improve the lives of millions. The command to love our neighbor as ourselves means we cannot ignore the corruption of the common good. 

Lobbyists Spend A Lot of Money to Make Your Taxes Confusing

I finished up my taxes last night. I didn’t think much of the hour I spent on the phone with my dad making sure I filed correctly. Taxes are always complicated, right?

Well, maybe that’s because the folks at Intuit (the publishers of TurboTax) want them to be.

Matt Stoller over at Republic Report pointed out that the ReadyReturn program in California sends tax payers a form showing how much they owe in taxes. Then they just sign it and send it back. It costs less for the state to process and it saves tax payers a lot of time.

During the 2008 campaign, President Barack Obama promised to implement something similar on the federal level. What happened?

Stoller also notes that since 2008, Intuit has spent a good $9 million on lobbying. And according to one of their investor reports, keeping taxes complicated is a top priority:

Our consumer tax business also faces significant competition from the public sector, where we face the risk of federal and state taxing authorities developing software or other systems to facilitate tax return preparation and electronic filing at no charge to taxpayers. These or similar programs may be introduced or expanded in the future, which may cause us to lose customers and revenue. For example, during tax season 2010, the federal government introduced a prepaid debit card program to facilitate the refund process. Our consumer and professional tax businesses provide this service as well.  

If that doesn’t make you mad, take a look at why you are probably paying $500 more a year for your cell phone then you should be. 

It's Finally Over -- and It Was Wrong

Finally, as President Obama has announced, this American war will soon be over, with most of the 44,000 American troops still in Iraq coming home in time to be with their families for Christmas.

The initial feelings that rushed over me after hearing the White House announcement were of deep relief. But then they turned to deep sadness over the terrible cost of a war that was, from the beginning, wrong; intellectually, politically, strategically and, above all, morally wrong.

The War in Iraq was fundamentally a war of choice, and it was the wrong choice.