Trevor Potter* sees a groundswell for rooting the money out of politics, as Americans come to see that this is the one reform that enables other reforms. And two polls released in the last few days report large majorities, as many as eight in ten of you, are in favor of clamping down on the amount of money that corporations, the super-rich, and those shadowy outside groups are pouring into the campaigns. It’s up to all of us to put a sign on every lawn and stoop in the land:
Our democracy is not for sale.
I can assure you that if someone is spending millions of dollars to elect the candidate, the candidate knows where that money is coming from. There’s nothing illegal about telling them, but the voters aren’t going to know that. We’re creating opportunities for corruption and candidates being beholden to specific private interests because of funding, yet there’s no disclosure to the rest of us.
The Citizens United ruling has undermined political equality, weakened transparency of the electoral process, and shaken citizen confidence in America’s political institutions and elections.
On their YouTube site, catoinstitutevideo, members of the corporate-backed Cato Institute defend and rationalize the Citizens United decision that Senator McCain calls “the most misguided, naive, uninformed, egregious decision of the United States Supreme Court I think in the 21st century.” Listen to their arguments and read along as they are deconstructed and criticized below.
“The problem is not too much money in politics.” That astonishing claim is spoken in juxtaposition to democracy. Ordinary people cannot have nearly the impact in our elections now that corporations and billionaires (like the Koch brothers who fund the Cato Institutute) can spend unlimited amounts of money to buy the loudest megaphone ($1 million ad-buys, etc.) Simpson is rationalizing plutocracy. “The problem is too much power in government.” Using an extremist ideology (libertarianism) to rationalize plutocracy is a smoke screen. The problem is too much money in politics, and the undemocratic nature of its sources.
When Simpson claims that the campaign reformers want to prevent the ability to affect the course of our government, he’s speaking on behalf of corporate actors and plutocrats aiming to buy politicians and have them in their debt of gratitude (for getting them elected). The truth is that campaign reformers want to spread out the ability to affect the course of our government, so that everyone has a roughly equal contribution to make in campaigns. Reformers don’t “want to control speech;” he is lying! Campaign reformers want to have a democratic Republic where many can be heard with roughly equal volume. The problem is less about how much money in politics than what actors are drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens. If everyone were limited in how much we could spend on campaign contributions, as the Constitution allows Congress to establish, then no one, or corporations, could dominate the sound of elections. Reformers aim to control spending, not speech.
Samples speaks as if he has not read the Constitution. What part of Congress having been given the power to regulate the
manner of elections (see Art. 1, Section 4 below) does he not understand? “There are no limits on government.” That is untrue. Congress could not prevent woman or blacks from voting for example. Congress could not prevent individuals from speaking out for or against a candidate or policy. That would violate their 1st Amendment rights. The problems that Samples ignores are 1) corporations are not individuals and should never have been granted constitutional rights and 2) money had been deemed a version of speech (Buckley v Valeo). The problem is that the Supreme Court neither understands nor cares that extreme wealth in politics is a form of violence against our democracy, corrupting the very foundation of one person, one voice, one vote. The same is true about the plutocratic tools at the Cato Institute.
The institutional press does have a greater 1st Amendment right. That is another area where Congress could not limit the “manner of elections.” Hayword’s argument ignores the facts that “everyone else” can influence elections in radically different ways. So long as the doctrine that money is a form of speech is the law of the land (Buckley again), then wealth will be the determining factor as to who (or what) gets heard, in particularly on expensive television.
The considerations about books are a straw man argument. The notion of banning books was irrelevant to the case. They have to be purchased and read on a schedule that cannot possibly take an election cycle into consideration. The McCain-Feingold bill had not limited the publishing of books in its regulations in any manner. Mr. Stewart was incorrect in his argument before the Court, but Kennedy nonetheless used this in his decision. Books can influence history, but there is no reason to regulate them with regard to campaigns and elections. Reading Stewart’s arguments in this video helps us understand how the government lost this case.
Hayword’s follow up argument about “influential groups” is a euphemism for moneyed groups aiming to buy candidates that they can then unduly influence once in office. What they would “hurt” is democracy: one person, one voice, one vote.
The government does get to choose the “manner of elections.” That is what the Framers provided them. “When and how and where” are all included in the “manner of elections.” The problem is not “giving up the right to free speech” as Samples argues; the problem is, in part, that Buckley has made speech and money equivalent. If the Koch brothers want to donate a nominal amount of money to a candidate, an amount circumscribed by law, that is democracy. What Citizens United did was to pound a nail in the coffin of democracy by allowing wealthy people to use a much bigger megaphone to convey their speech over the airwaves.
Simpson is fear-mongering when he claims that movies, newspapers and “books will inevitably be banned if we continue in the direction that we are.” What universe is he living in? The direction that the Court is taking us is toward a government of the wealthy, by the wealthy for the wealthy. Pause the Cato video and listen to Jeffrey Toobin explain this recently on The Colbert Report. From Sept 18th:
In Toobin’s view, because of the current Court and their corporatist opinions, the direction the United States is going is for greater corporate input in elections and fewer regulations about campaign donations.
The only way that Hayword’s claim near the end makes any sense is if by “people” she’s referring to corporations, and by “rights” she means donating and spending money for political purposes. Clearly, the Framers did not feel this way, or they would not have began the Constitution with the words “We the People” and given Congress the power to regulate the manner of elections. Hayword, Samples and Simpson, and by extension, the Cato Institute, are ignoring the Constitution and focusing on the misuse of the 1st Amendment. Simpson’s claim of what is “only logical” ignores, again, Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution:
The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Place of Chusing Senators.
The 1st Amendment protects every individual’s speech and the free press. It does not allow corporations and plutocrats to dominate the Republic. Unfortunately, we have a Supreme Court for that; and they have decided that the United States should be less democratic and more plutocratic. A plutocrat can never have too much money in politics. That is what keeps the system rigged in favor of the wealthy. That is what is at stake in this debate. The divide between plutocracy and democracy is at the crux of Citizens United. The Cato Institute makes it clear what side they are on.
* Trevor Potter is a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and founding president of the Campaign Legal Center, Potter was Stephen Colbert’s chief adviser when Colbert formed his own super PAC and 501 (c)(4) in a clever effort to expose the potential for chicanery behind each.