Democracy is a form of government in which all citizens participate equally either directly or indirectly through elected representatives in government. Democracy contrasts with forms of government where power is either held by one person, as in a monarchy, or where power is held by a small number of individuals, as in America’s burgeoning oligarchy. Several variants of democracy exist, but of the two basic forms which concern how the whole body of all citizens executes its will, America’s form is representative democracy where the whole body of all eligible citizens remains the sovereign power, but political power is exercised indirectly through elected representatives. Yesterday, the Koch-Adelson conservative’s on the Supreme Court made an important ruling that was yet another step toward taking political power away from the “whole body of all citizens” and giving a great advantage to a very, very tiny percentage of the population to exercise direct political power by granting them a greater degree of free speech than nearly the entirety of the population.
America’s democracy has been bludgeoned over the past four years whether it was the Supreme Court striking down the Voting Rights Act, Republicans enacting voter suppression laws in states they control, or the Supreme Court giving corporations a “voice” to spend unlimited amounts on campaigns in the Koch brothers’ Citizens United ruling. Yesterday the conservative Court issued another “free speech ruling” striking down limits on individual campaign donations as a gift to the extremely wealthy and Republican Party that was part of the McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission case. The Koch-Adelson conservatives felt the overall federal limit on individuals’ contributions of $123,200 was a violation of the wealthy’s free speech and unconstitutional, and concluded that to be fair and constitutional, the wealthy should be limited to spending $3.6 million on individual donations. For perspective, the old limit of $123,200 is about two-and-a-half times the $49,900 median family income and although millions of Americans donate to individual political campaigns in America, it is incomprehensible that the Court ruling benefitted any American that is not filthy rich. In fact, only 644 wealthy elite donors contributed the maximum amount to candidates in the last election cycle, so the Court’s decision benefitted an infinitesimal percentage of the American population; the very, very, very richest percentage of over 316 million Americans.
It was a ruling that benefits 0.000002% of the population and no man, woman, child, Republican, or wild beast can say this particular group of conservative SCOTUS Justices is not ruling solely for the extremely wealthy. John Roberts certainly was looking out for the people in the richest micro-percentage of the population because he wrote that “The overall limits intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise ‘the most fundamental First Amendment activities.” Roberts may as well have been speaking about “a citizen,” and if he was referring to freedom of speech of the very rich, the High Court already granted corporations owned by the richest Americans “free speech” in elections in Citizens United four years ago; freedom of speech was not an issue in McCutcheon. Allowing the rich to speak with a louder voice was the issue and the conservative Court gave the top two-one-millionths of one percent of the population a much, much louder voice than the bottom 99.99998% of the population to sway elections with typical conservative lies, misinformation, and propaganda.
Justice Stephen Breyer, in writing for the dissenting opinion, said that the court’s conservatives “eviscerated our nation’s campaign finance laws” with yesterday’s ruling and that “If the court in Citizens United opened a door, today’s decision we fear will open a floodgate. It understates the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institution and creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign.” Breyer is right, the court’s conservatives are eviscerating campaign finance laws and with the Citizens United ruling, yesterday’s decision sets a very dangerous precedent Republicans are certain to take to heart and completely eliminate campaign finance laws, the Federal Elections Commission, and voting laws that do not favor Republican candidates for political office. It is important to note that in Citizens United v FEC, McCutcheon v FEC, and Shelby County v. Holder (Voting Rights Act), Republicans simply went to the Supreme Court and asked the conservatives to strike down longstanding voting rights or campaign finance laws and the conservatives granted their request per their orders from the Koch brothers.
In McCutcheon v. FEC, a wealthy Republican did not like the FECs limitation on individual campaign donations and filed suit complaining that being limited to spending $123,200 on individual candidates just was not fair and violated his 1st Amendment right of free speech. The conservatives on the High Court agreed wholeheartedly and gave McCutcheon more free speech than over 99% of the population to financially support Republican candidates. How long before the Koch brothers or Sheldon Adelson convince another uber-wealthy donor to file suit against the federal government because they think the Federal Elections Commission is an unconstitutional violation of their free speech or that all campaign finance laws are unconstitutional? Republicans have already slashed FEC funding below levels from before 2010 that the elections commission complains restricts them from doing their jobs of policing violators.
It is true that one wealthy individual spending $3.6 million dollars on Republican candidates is not going to buy one American’s vote, but that proposition is likely in the offing. But it does unfairly give the 644 wealthy donors a greater voice in buying television ads, billboards, campaign flyers, and radio spots to spread lies and misinformation about Democrats while extolling the virtues of Republicans and teabaggers. The High Court’s ruling for McCutcheon is not the end of America’s democracy yet, but as Senator Charles Schumer said, “This in itself is a small step, but another step on the road to ruination. It could lead to interpretations of the law that would result in the end of any fairness in the political system as we know it.” Schumer is right and it is but a short matter of time before tax-exempt evangelical churches go crying to the conservatives on the Supreme Court that their obligation to not campaign from the pulpit at the expense of the American taxpayer is a violation of their 1st Amendment right of free speech and unconstitutional; everyone with a brain knows exactly how the Court will rule on that abomination.