Money Corrupting Politics Could Get Even Worse

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People stand in line outside the Supreme Court in Washington D.C.,on Tuesday, October 8, 2013, to hear arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC.
People stand in line outside the Supreme Court this morning to hear arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC.

If you think we need more money influencing politics in America, then today could be a great day for you.

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments this morning in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC),  a case challenging the overall limits an individual can donate to political action committees, candidates and parties in a two-year federal election cycle.

Under current law, a person can give up to $46,200 for federal candidates and $70,800 for parties and independent committees during the election cycle. With the support of the Republican National Committee, Shaun McCutcheon, a wealthy conservative donor from Alabama, is challenging the limits, arguing that they’re “unsupported by any cognizable government interest.”

The outcome is considered critical to the future of campaign finance, with many calling it Citizens United 2.0, referring to the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizen United v. FEC  allowing corporations to give political candidates unlimited funds.

A “bad sequel”

In a phone call yesterday the advocacy group Common Cause called the case a “bad sequel” to Citizens United, which paved the way for the most expensive election in history and a flood of negative ads (those of you in swing states will remember how miserable watching TV was last fall).

“If the Court sides with the plaintiff in McCutcheon v. FEC and overturns aggregate contribution limits, a single individual could spend as much as $3.6 million on a single election, enough to buy the attention of the president and every single member of Congress,” Common Cause said.

New research by Demos predicted that if the court rules in favor of McCutcheon, more than $1 billion in additional campaign contributions from a group of elite donors would be added through the 2020 election cycle.

McCutcheon first discussed the idea of a lawsuit with a conservative election lawyer at the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference, according to a report by The Huffington Post. Since then, he has partnered with the Republican National Committee. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is also joining the suit as an outside party and will have his own set of lawyers arguing before the Court. In fact, McConnell is scheduled to address the court today, having been granted ten minutes of the hour-long argument. McConnell has his own agenda hoping the court will agree to scrap all contribution caps and allow candidates to accept unlimited donations.

For his part, McCutcheon — founder and CEO of Coalmont Electrical Development, an engineering firm that specializes in the mining industry — wrote in a Politico editorial that ending the limits will not corrupt our democracy but instead is concerned with “practicing democracy and being free.”

For the majority of Americans who don’t have the deep pockets that wealthy donors do, the practice of allowing corporations and individuals to give copious amounts of money to candidates sounds exactly like a corruption of democracy.

That’s why groups like Common Cause will be protesting outside the court today reminding the judges that in a democracy “influence ought to be measured by the merit of ideas – not the size of someone’s bank account.” They’re also calling on the court to overturn the Citizen United v. FEC decision.

Take Action

While protesting in Washington, DC, is unlikely for most of us, here are some petitions you can review to support the cause.

Demos: Stop the Next Citizens United

Common Cause: Overturn Citizens United

Get Involved for a Better America: petition

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  • Anonymous

    “In G0D=M0NEY We Trust”

  • Anonymous

    It is scary to have to look to the Supreme Court for justice. It has been a bit short recently.

  • patricia scott

    It’s no surpise the GOP has their grubby little hands all of this. Hmmmm, wonder which way the “right-leaning Supreme Court will come down on. It will not be struk down by the court, Roberts will probly write the ascending decision, an the mega-rich will be signing BIG checks. UGH!!!

  • strider367

    Get worse? They don’t care anymore who see’s them doing it. They made themselves completely immune to all prosecution. Unless of course your not part of their special we don’t give a damn club.

    By the way republicans and democrats are two sides of the same coin. Both sides are equally corrupt…

  • Bob Fishell

    Since when have protesters outside the court had any influence on rulings?

  • Anonymous

    If there is one thing we have learned in 236 years of living under our Constitution it is that the Supreme Court does not operate as we might hope and probably not as it was intended. Rather than being the thoughtful deliberative body that is determined to uphold the intent of the Constitution and the will of the elected branches, it has become the body that often works to undermine both.

    As currently constituted, the Supreme Court is composed of nine Justices who are appointed for life, through a political process that in no way takes heed of the voting public. Moreover it is a body that has assumed the absolute power to modify or even reject legislation that has been made law by the elected branches; finding that in the Constitution takes great imagination. While they do this by claiming that laws conflict with the Constitution that conflict is often apparent only to a bare majority of the unelected Justices who serve for life. Where exactly in the Constitution does it say that the irreparable harm that would be done to George W. Bush by counting the votes in Florida would outweigh the irreparable harm that was done to the country (not to mention Al Gore) by not counting those votes? Where does it say in the Constitution that Corporations are to be treated as people or that the Supreme Court can substitute its judgement about equal right for the extensive deliberations of Congress.

    The Constitution gives Congress the duty to oversee the operation of the Court and even to impeach individual Justices who exceed their role under the Constitution but unfortunately we have seen that they do not choose to live up to those responsibilities.

    Yes, we need a Constitutional Amendment to overturn these mistaken decisions by the Court. Such Amendments would help but it is really the structure of the Court itself that needs to be changed. The Justices need to serve only a fixed term in office – a dozen years seems a good choice and that would mean that on average three Justices would leave the Court every four years; ideological voting blocks on the Court would no longer last multiple decades.

    As sensible as this change might be, the voters would still play no role in choosing the Justices, however. I would suggest that in addition, a Justice who wants to serve a second term on the Court could as for the voters’ approval to do so. Through a nationwide vote of confidence, the voters could allow a Justice whom they deem worthy, a second twelve year term. In time, this would help shape the Court to truly be one that serves the interest of the public – as that public perceives that interest.

  • Joseph Corlett

    Would any of you campaign finance hand wringers please demonstrate a causative effect between increased spending and increased election wins?

    Michael Bloomberg got his ass handed to him in the Colorado recalls, even though he outspent the NRA 6-1 or so. Ask Amway billionaire Dick DeVos how well outspending Jenny Granholm 4-1 in the Michigan grubrenitorial race worked out too.