Money and politics don’t mix well
Editorial | Decision to remove campaign spending caps invites corruption
The ideal of a true democracy is already so far removed from what it actually is in practice that it’s difficult for many to put aside their cynicism when we talk about politics. Corruption, manipulation and deceit are practically synonymous with anything political. While we encourage a more open-minded approach to the world of politics and the opportunities presents for those wanting to make a change, the recent Supreme Court ruling in “McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission” to remove limits on individual contributions to political campaigns doesn’t exactly help.
In the 5-4 ruling, the conservative justices who framed the majority opinion used their interpretation of the First Amendment to support the decision to remove aggregate limits on donor spending. According to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the purpose of the First Amendment is to keep the government out of political speech — which is why he says there shouldn’t be regulations on campaign donations in the first place. But how is this really conducive to free speech when the only people benefiting are the “one percent?” Granting the extremely wealthy this ability to spend millions and billions on campaigns gives them too much room to influence politics in a way that very few can, effectively silencing the 99 percent of Americans who will never have the kind of resources to participate in politics aside from casting votes.
And even these votes aren’t safe from the consequences of removing spending limits. Extremely well funded politicians can dominate the media and use it to their advantage as a form of propaganda. Our perception is so strongly influenced by the media. Even the basic concept of name recognition influences voting patterns, and allowing certain campaigns to receive potentially billions more in funding than others can make it even more difficult for newer or less popular campaigns to gain any traction.
While the Supreme Court ruling removes caps on spending, public opinion is largely in favor of keeping them. According to polls, 80 percent of Americans would vote to increase, or at the very least keep in place, the limits on spending. One in eight people in this country agree on this important aspect of the political process, and yet the spending caps will be lifted anyway.
Another consequence of this ruling is that it will only widen the gap between the wealthy and poor in this country. It’s already not a level playing field, but allowing the rich to unrestrainedly fund their favorite candidates, and subsequently have a much stronger influence, will only reinforce the class divide that plagues this country.
In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer writes, “Where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard. Insofar as corruption cuts the link between political thought and political action, a free marketplace of political ideas loses its point.” He makes the fairly obvious argument that bringing money into politics opens up too many doors to corruption, but it seems that this basic point is being overlooked by the five conservative justices who voted to remove the spending caps.
According to Chief Justice 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.” But this isn’t about protecting unpopular opinions or the opposition. It’s simply about protecting the rights of voters and politicians alike from the inevitable bribery that comes along with so much money.