More and More, the Very Rich Are Taking Control of Our Politics
April 4, 2014
Matt Hadro / Newsbusters & Charles P. Pierce / Esquire
The remarkable story of how we have come to privatize political corruption in this country reached another milestone today as the Supreme Court, John Roberts presiding, handed down its decision in McCutcheon v. FEC. Both CBS's Bob Schieffer and NBC's Brian Williams cried foul on Wednesday evening at the Supreme Court striking down the cap on overall political donations, showing sympathy for supporters of the law.
Bob Schieffer and Brian Williams
Lament SCOTUS Campaign Finance Decision
Matt Hadro / Newsbusters
(April 2, 2014) -- Both CBS's Bob Schieffer and NBC's Brian Williams cried foul on Wednesday evening at the Supreme Court striking down the cap on overall political donations, showing sympathy for supporters of the law.
Schieffer lamented that "More and more, the very rich are taking control of our politics" and that "this ruling is just one more sign that we no longer have any campaign laws that really matter." Brian Williams actually quoted liberal Justice Stephen Breyer and asked what opponents of the decision could do.
"And Pete, back to the 'voice of the people' as Justice Breyer put it, for the people who think what happened today was bad, looking for remedies, what would those be?" Williams asked. He echoed the liberal line that the wealthy could enjoy more influence, saying the Court was "allowing wealthy donors to have an even bigger influence in politics."
And although the ruling could benefit both parties, NBC highlighted only the advantage Republicans might enjoy in correspondent Pete Williams's report.
"Supporters of the law that was struck down say look no further than what happened last weekend in Las Vegas," Williams said of the liberal opposition to the decision. "Three potential Republican candidates for president, including Governor Chris Christie, showed up at an event put on by billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who along with his wife spent more than $93 million in the 2012 elections. The candidates were clearly there to woo him and his sizeable checkbook."
Below are the transcripts of the segments:
NBC NIGHTLY NEWS
April 2, 2014 [7:05 p.m. EST]
BRIAN WILLIAMS: The Supreme Court today further opened the floodgates on the role of big money in American politics. In a 5-4 decision, the justices struck down restrictions long in place on the grand total any one person can contribute to all federal candidates for office, allowing wealthy donors to have an even bigger influence in politics. Our justice correspondent, Pete Williams at the Supreme Court for us tonight. Pete, good evening.
PETE WILLIAMS: Brian, good evening. The Court left intact how much any person can give to a single federal candidate, but it did away with the limit on how much anybody can give to all candidates put together.
PETE WILLIAMS: (voice over) A deeply divided court today struck down a post-Watergate ceiling on how much any one person can give in total political contributions during a campaign. Now almost $49,000 to all candidates and another roughly $75,000 to all political parties and PACs.
The five-member majority said the Court has long found political spending to be free speech. Chief Justice John Roberts said the government can no more restrict how many candidates a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse.
Dramatically summarizing the dissent, justice Stephen Breyer said the ruling eviscerates the nation's campaign finance laws, letting the rich drown out other views. "Where big money calls the tune," he said, "the voices of the people will not be heard." Supporters of the law that was struck down say look no further than what happened last weekend in Las Vegas.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ladies and gentlemen, Governor Scott Walker.
PETE WILLIAMS: Three potential Republican candidates for president including Governor Chris Christie, showed up at an event put on by billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who along with his wife spent more than $93 million in the 2012 elections. The candidates were clearly there to woo him and his sizeable checkbook.
JOHN KASICH (R), Governor of Ohio: Hey, listen. Sheldon, thanks for inviting me.
PETE WILLIAMS: Supporters of the contribution limits say the ruling increases the political power of the super rich like Adelson.
ROBERT WEISSMAN, Public Citizen president: Now he can give more money directly to congressional candidates than he was able to do before today's decision came down.
PETE WILLIAMS: The ruling undoubtedly means more big money in politics.
CHUCK TODD, NBC News chief White House correspondent: Today's ruling is going to cause the same explosion of spending on congressional races that we've seen on the presidential level. In 2000, Bush and Gore spent a combined $130 million on that general election. 12 years later, Obama and Romney spent $2 billion.
PETE WILLIAMS: But Republicans called the ruling a victory for political freedom.
REINCE PRIEBUS, Republican National Committee chair: It brings the political parties, I think the most accountable groups in America, a little bit closer to exercising our First Amendment rights just like everybody else.
(End Video Clip)
PETE WILLIAMS: Republicans were hoping the court would use this case to strike down nearly all limits on campaign contributions, but only one justice, Clarence Thomas, seemed willing to go that far, Brian.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: And Pete, back to the voice of the people as Justice Breyer put it, for the people who think what happened today was bad, looking for remedies, what would those be?
PETE WILLIAMS: Well, there's not much Congress can do because the Court said this is based on the Constitution, and there are indications in this ruling that the court seems willing to strike down more and more contribution limits as they come here. The John Roberts court has yet to uphold a challenged contribution limit.
CBS EVENING NEWS
April 2, 2014 [6:35 p.m. EST]
BOB SCHIEFFER: Scott, for all practical purposes, this ruling is just one more sign that we no longer have any campaign laws that really matter.
More and more, the very rich are taking control of our politics. They don't control it yet, but their influence just keeps growing, and this ruling will make it easier for them. Relaxing previous campaign laws has already changed our politics dramatically.
Instead of working to form the bipartisan coalitions that once produced the compromises that made Washington work, the emphasis now is almost solely on raising money to run attack ads, as we saw when a parade of wanna-be Republican presidential candidates flew to Las Vegas last week to show off for Sheldon Adelson, the casino owner who contributed an astounding $93 million to candidates in 2012.
As week in and week out, no matter the crisis at the moment, the President find time to fly off in Air Force One for yet another fund raiser with the Democrats' big guys. The question is what are we getting for all this money? Does anyone really believe Washington is working better than it used to? I don't.
Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center.
The American Government Is Open For Corruption
Charles P. Pierce / Esquire
(Optional Musical Accompaniment To This Post)
(April 2, 2014) -- The remarkable story of how we have come to privatize political corruption in this country reached another milestone today as the Supreme Court, John Roberts presiding, handed down its decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, effectively demolishing the aggregate, two-year limit on contributions by individuals, and taking a big chunk out of Buckley v. Valeo, the misbegotten 1976 decision that got the ball rolling in the first place. It was a 5-4 vote, with the court split exactly as it had in the Citizens United case.
In writing the opinion for the court, Roberts further emphasized the equation of money with speech, and also seemed to agree with Anthony Kennedy's famous assertion in Citizens United that the ability of megadonors to shovel gobs of money into the election process, "We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption."
Significant First Amendment interests are implicated here. Contributing money to a candidate is an exercise of an individual's right to participate in the electoral process through both political expression and political association. A restriction on how many candidates and committees an individual may support is hardly a "modest restraint" on those rights.
The Government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse. In its simplest terms, the aggregate limits prohibit an individual from fully contributing to the primary and general election campaigns of ten or more candidates, even if all contributions fall within the base limits.
And it is no response to say that the individual can simply contribute less than the base limits permit: To require one person to contribute at lower levels because he wants to support more candidates or causes is to penalize that individual for "robustly exercis[ing]" his First Amendment rights. (Davis v. Federal Election Commission, 554 U. S. 724, 739.)
In assessing the First Amendment interests at stake, the proper focus is on an individual's right to engage in political speech, not a collective conception of the public good. The whole point of the First Amendment is to protect individual speech that the majority might prefer to restrict, or that legislators or judges might not view as useful to the democratic process. The aggregate limits do not further the permissible governmental interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption or its appearance.
What's good for Koch Industries is good for Sheldon Adelson, I guess. Roberts goes on.
This Court has identified only one legitimate governmental interest for restricting campaign finances: preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption. See Davis, supra, at 741. Moreover, the only type of corruption that Congress may target is quid pro quo corruption.
Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder's official duties, does not give rise to quid pro quo corruption. Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner "influence over or access to" elected officials or political parties.
And John Roberts apparently resides on Neptune. And, in case you didn't get the point.
Finally, disclosure of contributions minimizes the potential for abuse of the campaign finance system. Disclosure requirements are in part "justified based on a governmental interest in ‘provid[ing] the electorate with information' about the sources of election-related spending."
Citizens United, 558 U. S., at 367 (quoting Buckley, supra, at 66). They may also "deter actual corruption and avoid the appearance of corruption by exposing large contributions and expenditures to the light of publicity." Disclosure requirements burden speech, but, unlike the aggregate limits, they do not impose a ceiling on speech.
Having earlier argued that there was a First Amendment issue to be found in the aggregate limits because they hindered an individual's right to participate in the political process -- It is here helpful to note the everlasting irony of Antonin Scalia's view of Bush v. Gore. There is no individual right to vote, but an individual's right to purchase a candidate must be untrammeled -- but here, Roberts is saying it plain.
To restrict money is to restrict speech. Period. And the only real legal restraint on the wholesale subletting of American democracy is John Roberts's strange devotion to "disclosure" as some sort of shaming mechanism within the electorate. Good luck with that one.
Justice Stephen Breyer takes up a lot of these points in his dissent, most notably, the majority's laughably narrow definition of what political corruption actually is -- that political corruption exists only if you buy a specific result from a specific legislator. But it hardly matters. The five-vote majority in favor of virtually unlimited corporate and individual spending in our elections is a rock solid one.
Four days after almost every Republican candidate danced the hootchie-koo in Vegas to try and gain the support of a single, skeevy casino gazillionnaire, the majority tells us that there is no "appearance of corruption" in this unless somebody gets caught putting a slot machine in the Lincoln Bedroom on behalf of Sheldon Adelson. Money talks. Big money repeats itself, over and over, age after age.
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