Our Opinion: The right to buy speech
The inevitability of Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to wreck another bulwark against the buying of our political system doesn’t diminish its significance. The sequel to the 2010 Citizens United decision that struck down limits on spending by corporations, the decision in McCutcheon v. the Federal Election Commission decimates regulations on campaign contributions from individuals. The ruling comes just in time to enable wealthy special interests to buy more influence in the 2014 state and federal elections.
By the predictable 5-4 vote, the Court’s right-wing judicial activists threw precedent to the wind in making a decision saluted by right-wing politicians and their financiers across the land. The 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, in which a nonpartisan U.S. Supreme Court ruled that individual campaign contributions should be capped to prevent the system from being corrupted, was cast aside by the current court, setting the stage for the corrupting impact of big money to be further revealed in the months ahead.
It is disgraceful that Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, would cheapen the First Amendment by using it as an excuse for the decision. "There is no right in our democracy more basic than the right to participate in electing our political leaders," declared Justice Roberts. He is correct, and that basic right is being taken away from average Americans when their modest $10 or $50 contributions are buried by the six- and seven-figure contributions from the wealthiest, who will expect a payback from the lucky recipients of their largesse. The chief justice surely knows this but voted his political allegiance, as he did four years ago.
It is the power of big money that enables casino magnate Sheldon Adelson to collect Republican presidential candidates before him like supplicants. That power allows the billionaire Koch brothers to buy politicians to knock down the environmental laws that trouble their industries. Their riches buy the negative ads that persuade the naive to vote against their own interests. The money, the ads, the bad laws passed and good laws undone, contribute to the ever-widening gap between rich and poor in America -- and the descent of the middle class into the ranks of the poor.
Founding Father James Madison, who wrote that "Government should prevent an immoderate accumulation of riches," feared that the newly designed system of government answerable to the people would be corrupted by the wealthy, who would make it answerable to them. His fears were realized long ago, but what defenses still existed against the full realization of his fears were destroyed by the Court rulings of 2010 and yesterday.
That the Constitution was re-interpreted by the judges as excuses for their decisions makes them all the more offensive.
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