Perhaps it’s my slightly grayish state of mind. Then again, conceivably my overly sensitized political and personal sensibilities are currently working overtime. Regardless of the circumstances within which I find my craw grinding, I find myself miffed and more than slightly upset where it concerns yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling.
Prior to yesterday’s ruling, an individual could give no more than $48,600 to all candidates and $74,600 to all parties and PACs per election cycle (for a total of $123,200). Specifically, and in a nutshell, the Supreme Court of our land, in a landmark decision decided, in its infinite wisdom and a 5-4 ruling, that the cap, or limit, an individual can fiscally contribute to a particular political party’s candidate regardless of time constraints amounts to an unconstitutional infringement of one’s constitutionally guaranteed free speech.
A little background here. Before we discuss yesterday’s McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, we need to discuss Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
You see, prior to Citizens United there was the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, known as either BCRA or the McCain/Feingold Act. BCRA modified the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. The 1971 Act prevented corporations and unions from funding “… electioneering communications …” within 30 days before a primary or within 60 days before a general election. These acts of electioneering funding was felt to be a bit unfair.
Ok. This set the scene for the establishment of a conservative non-profit group called Citizens United. Some people to this day think that Citizens United is some sort of bank. No. So, Citizens United thought it would be a right fine idea to get their collective knickers in a twist over Micheal Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. As you may or may not remember, this film was a particularly scathing documentary on W’s 9/11 response. Citizens United felt this film constituted political advertising, and, if aired within the designated time frames as stated within BCRA, said airing would be violative of the law. The members of the Federal Election Commission looked at each other as though to wordlessly say, “are these guys serious?” and summarily told Citizens United to place their bitching where the moon don’t shine.
And with that, Citizens United picked up their marbles and jacks and, in a huff, went off and made their own movie: an anti-Hillary Clinton movie cleverly entitled, “Hillary, The Movie.” This movie turned out to be nothing more than an elongated anti Hillary ad. At least, that’s what the lower court felt and told Citizens United that this film was in fact violative of BCRA. The Supreme Court advised they would hear the issue.
Viewing it as narrowly as possible, after hearing all sides of the argument, the Supreme Court said to Citizens United that if you want to show the Hillary movie, show the Hillary movie. The Supreme Court, therefore said, in effect, it was unconstitutional to ban free speech through the limitation of independent communications by corporations, associations, and unions.
The ruling had a subtext. Basically it said that corporations and labor unions could dredge their respective coffers to support or oppose political candidates through the use of communications.
Ok. Clear so far?
The problems starting falling out immediately after the decision. You see, folks starting insinuating their own interpretation to the ruling. Folks started thinking that the ruling permitted corporations and unions who previously had limits associated with their contributions removed to the amount they could contribute directly to campaigns. This interpretation of the ruling is and remains completely incorrect.
“The Citizens United decision did not disturb prohibitions on corporate contributions to candidates, and it did not address whether the government could regulate contributions to groups that make independent expenditures. The Citizens United ruling did however remove the previous ban on corporations and organizations using their treasury funds for direct advocacy. These groups were freed to expressly endorse or call to vote for or against specific candidates, actions that were previously prohibited.” In other words they could sponsor media as opposed to directly laying as much dough on a candidate as they wished.
In comes the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. It seems that one Mr. Shaun McCutcheon, a wealthy conservative businessman from Alabama, contributed about 33 large to 16 candidates for federal office for the 2012 election cycle. He wanted to give more. He wanted to give $1776 (ain’t that cute?) to about 12 more candidates. The laws prevented that and the RNC, surprise surprise, was all in favor of receiving more.
Specifically, the Supreme Court ruled that government restrictions on the aggregate amount of money an individual would wish to contribute to political candidates and political committees in an election, violates free speech rights protected by the First Amendment.
I think this sucks.
Lisa Subeck, executive director of the grassroots political group United Wisconsin, calls the court’s 5-to-4 decision a complete violation of the public trust. And she says it takes the nation another step closer to, as she puts it, legalizing bribery in politics.
“Citizens believe one citizen, one individual, one vote,” Subeck stresses. “And essentially, what a decision like McCutcheon, particularly coupled with the Citizens United decision of 2010 does is, it gives an unlimited amount of power to those with the most money to purchase it.”
Justice John Roberts in the majority opinion stated, “Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to such quid pro quo corruption.” The chief justice argued that “[t]here is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.”
My opinion, humble or otherwise, is that the majority has its head up a fat cat’s ass. This particular opinion does not take into consideration the fact that these contributions are provided with unspoken conditions. The unspoken here is, “This money is yours if you support legislation for my cause.”
Think about it. This is no small matter. We all know that general elections, even local elections, are expensive affairs. In the past, in order to gain promotional materials such as placards, posters, stickers and such on up to televised advertisements, either the candidate or the political party represented needed to come up with the cash. This was done through various types of fund raising activities. Now that I think of it, in describing it even in these terms, it sounds as though the one raising the most dough would win. Unfair. Right? Of course, right. So in comes campaign finance laws to ensure voting was performed on an as-level playing field as possible. This would assist in providing the ability of gathering those votes that would reflect the will of the people.
Yesterday’s majority ruling throws the concept of the ‘will of the people’ down the crapper. You’ve heard of the one percenters?
These are the haves. These are not your average … oh how did John McCain once so eloquently couch it … ah yes … Joe Sixpack. There are only a handful of individuals and organizations that are so well heeled they can single handedly not just finance an election but thoroughly inundate our airwaves with their brand of propaganda. And, like it or not, voters are heavily influenced by the media. This is why we buy the crap we buy. This is why our self image is as it is. The wealthy know this. And so influence is peddled. It would be quite another story if an absolute dollar amount limit only could be accepted by a campaign. But the astronomical cash awards provided by influence peddlers can simply only be provided by the wealthy.
Is this free speech? Spending your money the way you want to spend your money? Of course it is.
Am I suggesting curtailing free speech? You bet!
Sorry to sound so trivial, trite and horribly obvious, but not all speech is protected. No! Inciting to riot is not protected, like the yell of ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater, or the goading of a crowd to destroy property or injure people. Likewise, the act of unduly influencing the will of the masses is not something either envisioned or approved by the framers of the Constitution of our fair land.
Frankly, the images of Supreme Court justices with robes emblazoned with corporate logos are not only not all that funny, but neither are they not all that far fetched.