This post originally appeared on the People For blog.
The Supreme Court's McCutcheon opinion, released this morning, is another 5-4 body blow to our democracy. To justify striking down limits that cap aggregate campaign contributions during a single election cycle, the Roberts Court ignores the way the world really works and makes it far more difficult to justify much-needed protections against those who would purchase our elections and elected officials.
Americans are deeply concerned that control of our elections and our government is being usurped by a tiny sliver of extremely wealthy and powerful individuals (and the corporations they control). That is not the democracy that our Constitution established and protects. The enormous impact of money in politics can destroy a democracy, undermining its foundations by disconnecting elected officials from the people they are supposed to serve and eroding the trust of the people in their system of government.
But the Roberts Court today stressed that campaign contributions can be justified under the First Amendment only if they address "quid pro quo" corruption – i.e. bribery – despite contrary pre-Citizens United holdings with a broader and more realistic vision. A democratic system rotting at its core – a government of, by, and for the wealthy – is not corrupt in their eyes.
If a wealthy person gives millions of dollars to a party (distributed to the party's multiple candidates and PACs across the country), he clearly exercises enormous influence over the laws that get passed. What the voters want becomes far less relevant, because it's the billionaire whose money is vital to getting elected. A government where elected officials allow a few plutocrats to have enormous access and influence over their policies is not an indication of a healthy government of, by, and for the people.
As Justice Breyer write in his McCutcheon dissent:
Today a majority of the Court overrules this holding [Buckley's 1976 upholding of aggregate limits]. It is wrong to do so. Its conclusion rests upon its own, not a record-based, view of the facts. Its legal analysis is faulty: It misconstrues the nature of the competing constitutional interests at stake. It understates the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institutions. It creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate's campaign. Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm'n, 558 U. S. 310 (2010), today's decision eviscerates our Nation's campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.
Americans are organizing around the country to restore our democracy in light of Citizens United and other dangerous court opinions. Today's McCutcheon opinion gives us another reason to rally.
Last year, People For the American Way Foundation released an analysis of McCutcheon within the context of the Supreme Court's past rulings on campaign finance.
Eagle Forum’s Virginia Armstrong, who leads the group’s Court Watch Project, writes in a “Court Watch briefing” today that the Supreme Court’s recent decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 have displaced the “Judeo-Christian/Constitutionalist worldview” in favor of “Humanism/Reconstructionism,” which she warns “wreaks havoc with the concepts of absolute truth and inherent logic of the Law.”
Armstrong writes that the gay rights cases have pushed America to the “breaking point” and into the “danger zone” that will undermine the rule of law.
Has America has bent over backwards too far in its spiritual, moral, and constitutional life so that we are in danger of “breaking”? This question is central to our current series of Court Watch Briefings. The question has been precipitated by America’s Culture War and echoes the anguished cry of the Father in the famous musical production, “Fiddler on the Roof,” who felt that revolutionary changes in his world were pushing him to the “breaking point.”
We are proving that America is indeed in the “danger zone” and is in dire need of a massive “straightening up process.” Nothing more clearly demonstrates this fact than the recent same-sex marriage decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court — Perry v. Hollingsworth and Windsor v. U.S.
The Humanist/Reconstructionist position on epistemology is fatally flawed at every turn, as revealed in the pro-homosexual court decisions in Hollingsworth v. Perry and Windsor v. U.S. We must remember that Perry/Windsor reflect far more than the specific issues and positions of the immediate parties to the cases. Rather, they afford us a panoramic view of the entire homosexual rights battle and should be viewed in that light.
The real conflict in Perry/Windsor and similar cases is that of the whole Culture War conflict — the War of Worldviews between Humanism/Reconstructionism and the Judeo-Christian/Constitutionalist worldview. What is at stake, as Harold Berman demonstrates in his analysis (to which we have been referring), is the “very collapse of our entire Western legal tradition.” The Perry/Windsor epistemology wreaks havoc with the concepts of absolute truth and inherent logic of the Law — key components of the Western legal tradition outlined by Professor Berman. And as Nancy Pearcey of Houston Baptist University’s Schaeffer Center so cogently states, “The clash between these two understandings of morality [the Judeo-Christian v. the Humanistic] will determine whether liberty is gained or lost in the 21st century. It is imperative to reassert the transcendent moral truths that undergird freedom in every society.”
In a radio bulletin yesterday about today’s Supreme Court hearing on Hobby Lobby’s challenge to Obamacare’s contraception mandate, Fox News commentator Todd Starnes said that the case really presents a choice between Obamacare and God: “Obamacare takes on the Almighty tomorrow at the Supreme Court.”
Starnes said that the contraception mandate will “force” Christians to pay for “life-terminating drugs” and will let “Obamacare trump religious liberty.”
However, as Tiffany Stanely of The Daily Beast notes, “the contraceptives in question” are “not being used to terminate established pregnancies.”
Leading Iowa religious right figures Bob Vander Plaats and Steve Deace got together on American Family Radio today to discuss potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates and how they can move them even further to the right, as they did in 2012.
Eventually, the discussion moved to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who provoked conservative ire when he said that the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act was appropriate and would help avert “a culture war.”
Deace said that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in the case was actually “an anti-Christian polemic” that he would “expect to be reading…at Mother Jones.”
Vander Plaats agreed, saying that Kennedy had in fact provoked a “constitutional crisis” by “defying the law of nature and the law of nature’s God” and “going against the document that predates the Constitution.”
As the Supreme Court heard arguments today in McCutcheon v. FEC – a campaign finance case in which the Court will decide whether to strike down overall limits on direct political contributions – a great crowd of PFAW and allies rallied outside the Court in support of getting big money out of politics. From students and small business owners to members of Congress – including Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Ted Deutch, Jim McGovern, and John Sarbanes – people from all backgrounds came together in support of protecting the integrity of our democracy.
PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker kicked off the speeches by painting a picture of the “people versus money” nature of the case:
Inside the court – right now – one wealthy man is asking for permission to pour even more money directly into political campaigns. But we’re here, too, and we have a different ask. We’re asking the justices to protect the integrity of our democracy. We’re asking them to protect the voices and the votes of ‘We the People’….We’re here today saying loud and clear: our democracy is not for sale.
Also speaking at today’s rally was Montgomery County Council Vice President Craig L. Rice, Maryland State Director of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network. Rice spoke about the effect of campaign finance laws on young political candidates:
As a young minority elected official, let me tell you: this [case] is extremely troubling….Young minority candidates throughout this country are routinely outspent and therefore denied the ability to serve in elected roles….Money should not determine who serves in office.
Howard University student Brendien Mitchell, a fellow in affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young People For program, talked about the importance of being able to hear the political voices of young people in the midst of voter suppression efforts and massive spending by the wealthy in our democracy:
What about the freedom of young Americans who cannot donate grandiose sums of money to political candidates?....We gather to say that this is our country. And that in a case of money versus people, the answer should be apparent: the people.
One of the highlights of the day was hearing from Moral Monday demonstration leader Rev. Dr. William Barber, II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and a member of PFAW’s African American Ministers in Action. Rev. Barber highlighted the millions of dollars Art Pope has poured into conservative projects and campaigns in his home state of North Carolina:
We [in North Carolina] know firsthand that when you undermine laws that guard against voter suppression, and you undo regulations on the ability for corporations and individuals to spend unchecked amounts of money to influence and infiltrate and literally infect the democratic process, it has extreme impacts.
Extreme impacts – and not only on the electoral process itself, but also on a whole host of issues shaping the lives of everyday Americans. Whether you care most about protecting voting rights, preserving our environment, or workers getting paid a livable wage, a political system where the super-rich can make six-digit direct political contributions harms us all.
And that’s why organizations and activists with focuses ranging from civil rights to environmental protection to good government issues came together today with a common message: our democracy is not for sale.
WASHINGTON – As the Supreme Court hears oral arguments today in McCutcheon v. FEC, a campaign finance case in which the Court is determining whether to strike down aggregate limits on contributions to political candidates and committees, People For the American Way’s executive vice president Marge Baker released the following statement:
In 2010, we saw the Supreme Court take aim at our democracy with its decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which paved the way for unlimited corporate political spending in elections. With today’s case, things could get even worse. In McCutcheon v. FEC, the Court is considering removing another critical safeguard of our democracy – the caps on how much money an individual can contribute directly to candidates and parties, in total, in each two-year campaign cycle.
This would be devastating. Millions of dollars being passed from billionaires straight to politicians’ coffers is the opposite of what our democracy needs. At the end of the day, this case comes down to ‘people versus money.’ Allowing the wealthiest donors to pour more money into our system would make it even harder to hear the voices of everyday Americans. That’s not the kind of democracy our constitution’s authors had in mind; it’s certainly not the kind of democracy Americans want today.
That’s why Americans across the country are speaking out in support of reclaiming our democracy. Sixteen states and more than 500 cities and towns have gone on record in support of amending the constitution to put the power of our political system back where it belongs – in the hands of the people. Their voices are coming through loud and clear: Our democracy is not for sale.
People For the American Way has been heavily involved in the McCutcheon case. Our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation filed an amicus brief in the case earlier this year and last month released an in-depth edit memo outlining the particulars of this case within the context of the Supreme Court’s past rulings on campaign finance. Today, PFAW is co-hosting a rally outside the Supreme Court, working with activists and organizations representing a wide spectrum of constituencies to speak out in support of protecting the integrity of our democracy.
More information on McCutcheon v. FEC and on PFAW’s involvement in the case is available here: http://www.pfaw.org/issues/government-people/mccutcheon-v-fec
People For the American Way executive vice president Marge Baker is available for interviews with the press. To arrange an interview, please contact Layne Amerikaner or Miranda Blue at firstname.lastname@example.org / 202-467-4999.