There has always been a debate in America as to whether the country is, in truth, a republic with a substantive democracy or an oligarchy with an essentially procedural democracy where real outcomes are determined outside the formal electoral process – today the Supreme Court did its best to ensure the latter striking down yet another campaign contribution limit on America’s ruling class.
In McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission the Supreme Court gave us – in a 5-4 vote along ideological lines – Citizens United 2: Plutocratic Boogaloo. The ruling removes limits on how many candidates and PACs the rich can give money to.
It did not affect familiar base limits on contributions from individuals to candidates, currently $2,600 per candidate in primary and general elections. But it said that overall limits of $48,600 by individuals every two years for contributions to all federal candidates violated the First Amendment, as did separate aggregate limits on contributions to political party committees, currently $74,600.
According to the Supreme Court money is speech. Which is what makes the ruling even more odd, if it’s a violation of the First Amendment to limit in aggregate how long does the individual cap per candidate have left?
And, of course, now that we have SuperPACs you can max out to all the candidates you want and their related PACs then fund “independent” efforts to help their campaign without any limits, secretly.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for four justices in the controlling opinion, said the First Amendment required striking down the limits. “There is no right in our democracy more basic,” he wrote, “than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.”
Dissenting from the bench, Justice Stephen G. Breyer called the decision a blow to the First Amendment and American democracy. “If the court in Citizens United opened a door,” he said, “today’s decision may well open a floodgate.”
Everyone deserves to have the freedom to bribe as many politicians as they can.
On some level you have to admire the right-wing strategy on this – stack the court with reactionaries who rather than doing all the dirty work themselves will instead wreck progressive infrastructure allowing their comrades to be the ones who roll back the clock to a more gilded age of politics.
Well played reactionaries, but be careful what you wish for. Destroying civil society and limits on the rich’s power might not yield the results you are hoping for in the long run.
Photo by Matt Wade under Creative Commons license.