While I'm not a lawyer or an expert in our Constitution, I have read our Constitution and its amendments, and it's unclear whether the same can be said of five of the nine justices on the Supreme Court.
It's understandable that the free speech clause in the U.S. Constitution covers the spoken word, written word and symbolic speech (like burning a flag, words on a jacket or wearing an armband to school). But how can donating money to political campaigns be speech? Anyone can write a letter to the editor supporting a candidate or candidates, anyone can stand on a soapbox on a street corner and make statements supporting multiple candidates. But the vast majority of Americans cannot possibly afford to support one candidate, let alone multiple candidates in an election cycle.
What makes this news decision even worse is the nation's growing income disparity. Mr. Deep Pockets has millions of dollars. He can donate the maximum contribution to every single candidate he wants to, whether or not he lives in that candidate's district. Ms. I. M. Broke lives paycheck to paycheck. She cannot afford to put money in her 401k and taking her kids out for ice cream is a rare treat. She cannot afford to give to one local candidate, let alone multiple local, regional and national candidates.
Follow below the fold for more on money, politics and so-called speech.
There are a lot more people in Ms. Broke’s situation than there are in Mr. Pockets, which is why this is such a bad decision for the American political system. Now those who have money will have a louder voice than those who do not. From a local to a national level this harms our democracy. From school board races to the presidential race, one person with money could decide an election.
We could see a highly qualified candidate lose a local school board race in Wisconsin because a millionaire in Texas supported this candidate’s opponent—whose only qualification may be that he or she joined a group this Texas millionaire created to dictate changes to schools on a national basis. It would not take much to throw several local elections like this with just one large donor, as most local offices are not high dollar fund-raising affairs. Now multiply this across the country and it's clear that one person in Texas could influence local elections nationwide and push an agenda that does not meet the needs or the culture of a community.
The other side of this coin is that we already have a problem with money in our political system through PACs, SuperPACs, soft money, hard money and party money. Ads from outside groups pollute our airwaves during election season, most of them just using a sliver of truth to create an illusion that tears down a candidate without naming a name. In many cases, the organizations that produce these are not required to disclose their donors, so no one can be sure where the money is coming from.
This is not how our democracy should work. The way it is now, given two successive Supreme Court decisions where campaign finance laws have been gutted, the only people who have a voice in our elections are the very wealthy.
In 1910 Teddy Roosevelt said (pdf):
We need to make our political representatives more quickly and sensitively responsive to the people whose servants they are. More direct action by the people in their own affairs under proper safeguards is vitally necessary. The direct primary is a step in this direction, if it is associated with a corrupt-practices act effective to prevent the advantage of the man willing recklessly and unscrupulously to spend money over his more honest competitor. It is particularly important that all moneys received or expended for campaign purposes should be publicly accounted for, not only after election, but before election as well.The more things change, the more they stay the same. In 1910, money in our political system was a problem. In 2014, unprecedented amounts of money have corrupted our political system to the point that the people of the United States are losing faith in the system. As in 1910 when Teddy Roosevelt proposed a corrupt practices act, in 2014 we need not only a corrupt practices act, we also need to publicly fund political campaigns and no longer allow campaign donations. It is ludicrous to me that people running for office spend two and three times more money to win an election than what that elected office pays.
Money has absolutely corrupted our political system. The only way to fix the damage done by the Roberts court is to change the system and remove the temptation to buy elections. If we can figure out how to pay for two wars over the past 13 years ,we can certainly figure out how to publicly finance our elections.