Supreme Court decision upholds that money is “free speech”

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Students better begin plotting how they will make their million (no, wait, multi-billion) in order to join the ranks of the mighty 1 percent. The more money that lines a citizen’s pockets, the louder their voice, at least according to five Supreme Court Justices who decided the fate of the electoral process on April 2nd as they continued their campaign finance reform crusade.

Effective April 2nd, individuals are no longer limited to how much they can contribute in total to federal campaigns, as the Supreme Court voted in favor of the plaintiff in the McCutcheon v Federal Elections Commission (FEC) case. According to Chief Justice John Roberts, campaign spending and donations can’t be limited by law, because money is free speech.

Shaun McCutcheon, CEO of Coalmont Electrical Development, an engineering firm that specializes in the mining industry. from Alabama, maxed out his federal political campaign contributions last year at $44,200. “Somehow, I can give the individual limit, now [before April 2] $2,600, to 17 candidates without corrupting the system. But as soon as I give that same amount to an 18th candidate, our democracy is suddenly at risk.” McCutcheon said.

The Republican National Committee teamed up with McCutcheon and sued the Federal Elections Commission, whose duty it is to oversee campaign finances. McCutcheon claimed that contributing to an unlimited number of congressional races was upheld by freedom of speech under the First Amendment, and the Supreme Court upheld this claim.

There is still a limit of $2,600 that one person can donate to one congressman, but now a rich citizen can donate to as many congressmen as they please.

The flood gates have been opened.

“It’s already the case that a candidate or office holder, say a member of congress, spends a huge amount of time focusing on fundraising,” Associate Professor of Political Science, Keith Fitzgerald said. “This [the McCutcheon decision] just makes that worse, and makes fundraising a bigger part of their job. There’s no place to hide. It doesn’t matter anymore if you’re in a safe seat or a competitive seat, you have to be fundraising all of the time.” Fitzgerald served in the Florida Legislature and has experience fundraising for campaigns.

The main focus of Congress is supposed to be on making good public policy. Another aspect of the job is, of course, trying to get reelected (or raising money for other candidates of their party to get reelected). According to Fitzgerald, the McCutcheon decision just means there are fewer people working on legislation and good policy because “Everybody is a full time fundraiser all the time. It’s already been going in that direction but this just makes it a done deal.”

“It’s even going to have an impact on the quality and motivation of the candidates in the long run.” Fitzgerald continued.

Being a full time fundraiser discourages people from running for office. If a candidate wants to run for office in order to enact good policy and make a difference, they quickly find out that a huge chunk of their time will go towards calling up donors and asking for money. This may be a huge turn off to a lot of people who would make good candidates.

Another consideration is that the deregulation of campaign contributions just puts more power in the hands of a rich elite.

“I just find it preposterous that the founding fathers would have thought that this is what the First Amendment meant,” Fitzgerald continued. “Knowing what they were worried about, that the American Revolution was about too much influence in the hands of a small number of people who could manipulate the political process. That’s what they were rebelling against. There is no way that they meant the First Amendment to mean that wealthy people would have such a disproportionate voice in politics.”

“They [citizens] would be delighted to see fewer television commercials touting a candidate’s accomplishments or disparaging an opponent’s character,” said Chief Justice John Roberts. “Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects. If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades – despite the profound offense such spectacles cause – it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.”

According to a 2010 Washington Post-ABC News poll, eight in ten poll respondents say they oppose the Citizen’s United decision, allowing corporations and unions to contribute unlimited amounts to campaigns; 65 percent “strongly” opposed the decision, and 72 percent of poll respondents were in favor of reinstating limits on campaign contributions.

“In reality, as the history of campaign finance reform shows and as our earlier cases on the subject have recognized, the anticorruption interest that drives Congress to regulate campaign contributions is a far broader, more important interest than the plurality acknowledges,” Justice Breyer said in his Dissent. “It is an interest in maintaining the integrity of our public governmental institutions. And it is an interest rooted in the Constitution and in the First Amendment itself…Where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard.”


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