Is there anyone is the United States who believes we need more money funneled into the political process? Apparently there are at least five justices of the Supreme Court who do, and there are likely many other corporate executives who agree. On Thursday, January 21, the court ruled (in a rather complex and confusing case) that speech is free, whether it’s paid for or not.
The Christian Science Monitor reported that Justice John Paul Stevens denounced the majority opinion as a dangerous rejection of common sense. “While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics,” he wrote. It was put another way by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist: “If the law supposes that, the law is a ass….”
The practical result of the ruling is to open the financial spigot and let the corporate coffers spill out, hence overwhelming alternative funding sources such as contributions from individual voters. So who’s going to pay the price for this decision and its results? We, the People. First, the ruling will erode the power of the vote by increasing the level of manipulative PR and advertising-driven marketing funded by corporations. Second, the ruling will erode the impact of our individual contributions to a candidate because our small dollars are lost in the flood of corporate funding.
Business people are fond of saying that the costs of regulation are simply passed on to the customers. What about the new, higher costs of funding political campaigns? And why are we not outraged at this Supreme Court decision, which overturned decades of regulatory authority, as a clear case of judicial activism? It’s hard to understand why people are so up in arms about government involvement in healthcare while so little is being written or said about the Supreme Court decision that essentially sells our political process to the highest bidder.
U.S. politics is mired in a series of problems ranging from polarization to inaction, but most of them can be summed up with one simple word: money. There’s too much of it driving decision making via lobbying, and too much of it controlling elections through contributions. The cost of getting elected to office – whether federal, state or local– has grown to ludicrous levels. Money is poisoning our political process.
If the Supreme Court in its wisdom has ruled that corporate funding of politics is protected by the Constitutional right of free speech, then perhaps it is time to amend the Constitution. As radical as it sounds, we should limit campaign expenses and the length of campaigns at the Constitutional level, hence barring the kind of questionable legal interpretation that has just flushed huge amounts of new money into the funding pool.
Let’s hold a tea party to get political spending under control. Now, that would be a worthwhile protest movement.