Yesterday the Supreme Court decided to abolish campaign finance law, which will allow anyone to have the freedom to donate unlimited amounts of money to whomever they want to run the country.
In other words, by a 5-4 decision led by so-called “conservative” justices, the highest court in the land has decided to legalize oligarchy. Adam Liptak, the New York Times legal correspondent, records that the ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission “reflected sharply different visions
of the meaning of the First Amendment and the role of government in regulating elections, with the majority deeply skeptical of government efforts to control participation in politics, and the minority saying that such oversight was needed to ensure a functioning democracy.
Justice Breyer read the dissent from the bench, a move which signaled “deep disagreements.” The industry journal Advertising Age quoted Breyer as adding that, along with the 2010 Citizens United decision, McCutcheon “eviscerates our nation’s campaign-finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”
These are not mere abstract philosophical differences, either. In an analytical piece on the decision, Times politics reporter Nicholas Confessore observes that the only ones who will benefit are the big money players and the alleged public servants who want their support.
Democracy may have been for sale for a long time under the table, but now there is a legal precedent for bringing transaction campaigning into the open for all to see. Why this radical activist court is said to be controlled by “conservatives” is quite odd. We are talking about throwing away decades of jurisprudence on the power of money in politicking. Money used to be a chit; now it’s speech. Money talks, indeed. It is the loudest megaphone around.
Why bother with the whole charade of “public office”? It looks more like an extortion racket, where the general public funds the budget priorities of super-wealthy campaigners. In return, the legislator (or governor, judge, and any other office-holder) cashes in after carrying out whatever shadowy agenda he was purchased to carry out by switching over to “the private sector.” The decision, described by Chief Justice John Roberts as affirming “the right to participate in electing our political leaders,” is being celebrated by proponents of “small government,” which becomes in effect a euphemism for big business.
In The New Right: We’re Ready to Lead (1980), Richard Viguerie wrote, “More than in past years, growing numbers of business and association PACs [political action committees] spent their money wisely on free enterprise and national defense candidates.” These are terms of propaganda that refer, respectively, to corporate welfare and to the military contracting industry which is a key part of the former. Viguerie’s descendants are cheering that a very small slice of the population has the untrammeled right to make decisions for everyone else.
The country gets to be run by those who own it, as the founders intended—at least, according to the radical activist majority that presides on the court currently. Justice Breyer is right to worry about what he called “democratic legitimacy”: how is it legitimate to call ourselves democratic when the people with the most money, and therefore the most power, now have official sanction to make the most consequential decisions?
In effect, what happened is the Supreme Court just gave its stamp of approval — by a very slim majority — on where things have been going over the years, and that is toward plutocracy. The last presidential election cost $6 billion between both parties. That amount of money could be thought of as a measure of the democratic deficit. It is up to the imagination to surmise how much will show up on the tab next time.