The United States is a democracy, a government by the people. Every two or four years we cast our ballots for the candidates of our choice. Each of us, whether we are rich or poor, gets one vote per candidate. The candidates with the most votes win. Nothing could be fairer. Such is what we are taught in grade school.
Then we grow up.
Eventually we learn the rich are allowed to give money to political candidates and groups to influence the outcome of our elections. The poor are perfectly free to do the same, except they don’t have the money.
Then we learn the word “plutocracy,” a government by the wealthy.
No one publicly espouses plutocracy, but some people surreptitiously behave as if they do. Unfortunately “some people” happen to be five men on the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the infamous 2010 case Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission, the Court lifted campaign limits to corporations, claiming these entities have the same rights as individual persons.
On April 2, 2014, the same five men supported an Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon, in the case McCutcheon vs. the FEC, by striking down campaign finance limits on the aggregate amount of money one can give to candidates and political groups. While a contribution limit to an individual candidate or group remains in place, there is now no limit to how much a person can give to a combined number of candidates and political groups.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion in McCutcheon, claims that money is speech and that putting a dollar cap on how much a contributor wishes to give to multiple candidates and political groups is tantamount to limiting that contributor’s First Amendment right to free speech.
Roberts’s reasoning might be a bit more persuasive if each of us had the same amount of wealth and income. The problem, of course, is that we don’t.
If money is speech, what exactly does Justice Roberts think contributors are saying to politicians when they donate unlimited amounts of cash? Are they talking bribery? “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Extortion? “You scratch my back, or else I’ll scratch your opponent’s back.”
Per Roberts, the claim that lifting contribution limits will lead to bribery and extortion is “speculative.” That politicians are known to take bribes and be influenced by money is apparently unknown to the Chief Justice. On the other hand, he seems to be on a first-name basis with the Tooth Fairy.
Rather than McCutcheon being about free speech, we suggest it is more about the sacred tenet of capitalism – private property – including the right of the super-rich to spend their money as they see fit, even if it results in the further disenfranchisement of the vast majority of Americans.
Since the Republican National Committee joined McCutcheon as a plaintiff in this case, its members were obviously ecstatic with the Court’s decision. Democrats, on the other hand, were in high dudgeon over the ruling, appalled by the increasing encroachment of money into their political process. But the Democrats immediately ceded the moral high ground when Nancy Pelosi, the leading Democrat in the House, said they will not “unilaterally disarm,” and before you could say “George Soros,” they too were on the phone begging for dollars.
Every Republican and Democratic member of the U.S. Senate, House, and Presidency is pro-capitalist. Not one advocates replacing a system based on the unsustainable accumulation of wealth for the few with a system whose goal is the amelioration of all.
Capitalism and plutocracy are handmaidens, or better yet, soul mates. Why aren’t we taught this in grade school?