Source: Consortium News
To U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and the other four Republican justices, the right of wealthy Americans to give maximum donations to as many political candidates as they wish topped the right of average Americans not to have their voices drowned out by the influence of money.
So, on Wednesday, the Court voted 5-4 to overturn federal law setting caps on how much a person can give in each election cycle, a decision that the reform group Public Citizen called "a devastating blow at the very foundation of our democracy." Dennis J Bernstein discussed the ruling with Public Citizen president Robert Weissman...
DB: Let's begin by explaining exactly what was decided [by the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday].
RW: Well, the short version of what was decided is that the super-rich, according to the five-vote majority of the Supreme Court, have a constitutional right to spend at least $5.9 million in direct donations to candidates, parties and political committees every two years. That is in place of the current limit of around $123,000. ...
This is empowering the 1 percent, except that's a little bit misleading. Because it's not really a case about the rights of the 1 percent, it's a case about the rights of the .0001 percent. There are only a few hundred people who are going to write multi-million-dollar checks following this decision. But they are going to have an absolute stranglehold over elections and policy-making in this country.
DB: I want to ask you to talk a little bit more, in detail, about the logic. What was said [in the majority's decision] and the logic of the decision coming out of the court. What are they saying? Why is this a move towards "democracy"?
RW: Well, it's a little bit hard to articulate the, so-called, logic. But, here goes. The system, before today, involved both limits on how much a person can give directly to candidates, just $2,600 in the primary and $2,600 in the general election. And comparable, or similar limits, in what an individual person can give directly to political parties and to political committees. It also involved a limit on the total amount a person can give in a two-year cycle, totaling, like I said, around $123,000.
And the court today upheld the limits still on what you can give to a particular candidate, but they said the total aggregate limit, the limit on how much you can give in total, is unconstitutional. They said "Well, we see why there might be ... maybe, there's a reason to preserve the restriction on donations to particular candidates, but we don't see why you should be limited in the number of candidates you can give the maximum contribution to. We don't see why you should be limited in the number of political party committees you should be able to give the maximum to, or to the limit of the political committees you can give the maximum to."
And if you say okay, well, what does that mean? Then they can give the maximum to all of them, that number $123,000, magically turns into $5.9 million. And there might be some impediment to doing that if you had to write, if you were a rich enough person to make that level of donation, you had to write, you know, 435 checks to candidates for the House of Representatives in the primary, and 435 checks in the general election.
It's not going to be like that. It's going to be writing one check to what will be called a joint fundraising committee. Maybe two checks to these joint fundraising committees who will take that money and then distribute it. So who's going to run to the joint fundraising committee? Who is going to be mostly party leaders and political leaders who will be soliciting multi-million-dollar checks and are going to owe their allegiance to those who can write them.
The logic of the court, as I call it, well there's a First Amendment right, a speech right for people to contribute as much as they want and, so again, the question further is what is the logic there. What they are really saying is the right to give money deserves the same kind of protection, more or less, as the basic right to speech.
And then you say is there an offsetting value where we should weigh against that, that would justify restrictions on how much a person can give in the aggregate? And the answer was, well, the only thing that we look at is whether this might facilitate quid quo pro corruption meaning will it facilitate illegal bribery or the appearance of illegal bribery? And the answer is, it actually will, but the court says no, it won't because it's actually going to authorize illegal bribery, and therefore there's no countervailing public interest. So, if you ask the question "Well, what was the logic of the court?" That's how it goes.
Now, there aren't very many people who think that way. Unfortunately five of the very few people who do, were able to make the decision today. I think regular people would say "You're talking about the purported rights of a few hundred people as against the rights of the rest of us to have a functioning democracy. That there will be a huge corruption as a result of this, even worse than we already have post-Citizens United."
Because it's a whole new form of giving available now to the super-rich. There's going to be worse corruption, worse tilting of the playing field in favor of the rich, less political equality. In fact, less real political speech because the rest of us who aren't able to amplify our voices by giving $5.9 million dollars in a single check, or two checks, are going to be shut out.
DB: Alright, and just to be clear, in terms of this $5.9 million, is it a public donation or can they do this in private and not tell anybody?
RW: These donations will be disclosed. This will not increase the dark money that we've seen after Citizens United. There will be a different channel of giving. That dark money is all going to outside organizations that don't have to report their donors. This money is going to go directly to candidates, directly to Republican or Democratic party committees, directly to political action committees that are required to disclose their major donors.
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