After three years of the NJOCU coalition actively pursuing an amendment-to-overturn, We Finally Have a FULL SENATE VOTE SCHEDULED for MONDAY, 9/8! It is a vote on cloture, i.e. to close debate on S.J.Res.19. It is not yet the vote to pass the amendment proposal. But the cloture vote is significant (particular in this era of fillibusters in the Senate). We see a vote for cloture as a show of support for the amendment outlined in S.J.Res.19. Once debate ends, the actual bill may be voted on.
Despite broad voter approval of an amendment to overturn Citizens United, the two-party system has managed to divide on this bill. Democrats are running on the issue in November, while Republicans with a pro-money faction led by Senator McConnell are fretting over the implications. In this case, we have to side with Democrats. SJR-19 is a narrowly written and very reasonable amendment proposal that enables Congress to regulate its own elections and thereby limit the corrupting influence of money in politics. This is a reinforcement of Article 1 Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution. While the amendment could have done more than that, its sponsors decided to proceed with care. There is plenty of room for bipartisan support of SJR19.
SIGN THE PETITION in support of SJR19 to amend the constitution: http://tinyurl.com/m9856ow
Acknowledging the partisan politics, we would hope to see ALL Senate Democrats vote YES for cloture on S.J.Res.19 on 9/8. NJOCU gives a hat-tip to Sen. Menendez (202-224-4744) and Sen. Booker (202-224-3224) who have already cosponsored this bill. We encourage you to thank them by phone or by email. We also suggest that you call the remaining 5 Democratic Senators who have not yet gone on the record and ask for their support in some form. Or call a friend in that state and ask them to get involved. Some senate offices will accept input honestly presented as coming from a national constituency. As a member/supporter of any national pro-amendment organization such as Public Citizen, Common Cause, Free Speech for People, People for the American Way, Rootstrikers or Wolf-PAC you have many voters in every state standing behind you. Here are the non-sponsoring Democrats:
Pryor, Mark L. – (D – AR)
255 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
Donnelly, Joe – (D – IN)
720 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
Landrieu, Mary L. – (D – LA)
703 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
Kaine, Tim – (D – VA)
388 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
Warner, Mark R. – (D – VA)
475 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
For Democrats not ready to co-sponsor – fine. Ask them to commit to voting for cloture and then for the bill. Remind them: You can’t stand for the little guy, as Democrats claim to do, if you can’t even run without the big guy’s money. And we all know how that works. End the arms race of money. Many voters also see the gridlocked Congress as a product of dark money-driven, fear-based negative advertising. And even while the ads assassinate character and work the wedge issues, the parties are amazingly indistinguishable where moneyed interests are concerned.
For Republicans, the arguments are remarkably similar. Four quick points:
1) 80-90% of all voters want ALL the money out of politics
2) Small businesses want Citizens United overturned a disagree with money in politics almost 9-to-1
3) Congress’s do-nothing reputation is a direct result of the interference of BIG MONEY IN POLITICS
4) Most young voters, women and people of color believe the system is rigged against them, in large measure because they see how money corrupts the debate. They want an amendment and reforms.
McCain, John – (R – AZ)
241 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
Murkowski, Lisa – (R – AK)
709 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
Kirk, Mark – (R – IL)
524 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
Paul, Rand – (R – KY)
124 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
Collins, Susan M. – (R – ME)
413 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
Cochran, Thad – (R – MS)
113 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
Heller, Dean – (R – NV)
324 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
Coburn, Tom – (R – OK)
172 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
Portman, Rob – (R – OH)
448 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
Alexander, Lamar – (R – TN)
455 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
Ayotte, Kelly – (R – NH)
144 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
Republicans voters support reform. Perhaps you’re one of them. While some Republican members of Congress stand with their constituency on this issue, many seem better schooled in excuses for why addressing the problem should not be attempted. A common narrative is that NOTHING will work. Without ANY political leadership, they have a point (albeit a circular one). Another argument is that we should wiggle and squiggle a partial fix into place. Some of these ideas are remarkable good, but without an amendment to the constitution, new campaign reforms may be undermined with the next court case. Stranger things have (already) happened. WE MUST BOTH AMEND AND REFORM.
It’s okay to call on Monday. We want a Thunderclap of activity to hit senate offices on the 8th. Join the Thunderclap: http://bit.ly/1tOvyY0
Trans-partisan Opposition to Citizens United
Everyone needs to understand that ALL other issues are being held hostage this issue, BY BIG MONEY. Good governance is nearly impossible. Voters have no confidence that their voices can be heard over the media volume of big money flooding elections at every level. Each Senator needs to stand up and be counted on the right side of this issue and of history. And all of our congress people need to stand with ordinary citizens, not with big money, to ensure a functioning democracy and free speech for ALL.
S.J.Res.19 and H.J.Res 119 (full text):
If you live in New Jersey,
SIGN OURPETITION supporting SJR19 to amend the constitution: http://tinyurl.com/m9856ow
WHEVER YOU LIVE
Several national groups have started new SJR-19-specific petitions. We suggest you sign any and all. Here’s one at CREDO Action:
The Daily Kos gives some background on its petition and that of other groups as well, showing that several groups are working together.
Here’s the Daily Kos petition.
Susannah Newman contributed significantly to this article.
Okay – the quick and easy version of this blog.
We’ve got info from New Jersey candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives about their views on money in politics and amending the constitution to save the Republic.
…or even quicker and easier, See the Summary
And now for the detailed version of this blog, in which we brag about how much work this was and how cool we are to have taken it all on!
NJOCU recently contacted candidates for the House of Representatives in the state of New Jersey. We asked for the candidate’s views on money in politics as well as the candidate’s strategy, if any, for fixing the problem. Formed in the wake of Citizens Untied, NJOCU has always seen a constitution amendment to overturn at least portions of that decision as necessary. For us, without an amendment, campaign finance regulation, lobbying reform, closing the revolving door, safeguards against cronyism, and a government of, by and for the people will always be under threat from politics and the courts. There’s just too much evidence that the lure or possession of power will draw out the exploiters and the misguided.
We attempted to reach all the candidates; six were un-findable. We sent them background information on the issue and an “Ask.” We pointed out that the NJOCU coalition represents 27 statewide business associations and community and political organizations, and over 17,000 New Jersey petition signers determined to get big money out of politics. NJOCU successfully spearheaded the passage of amendment resolutions in 13 NJ municipalities along with resolutions on both sides of the NJ legislature. In other words, the New Jersey Legislature has already asked Congress for an amendment.
We asked each candidate for an endorsement of a constitutional amendment (by bill number if possible) or at least some legislative alternative that the candidate preferred. If they didn’t see a solution or the need for a solution, then we respectfully asked them to explain that position.
We had to treat a non-response to our Ask as a non-endorsement of the amendment campaign and indeed of any other approach to fixing the problem of money’s corrupting influence over democracy. How much we were able to offer our own knowledge of this far reaching topic to candidates, who are undoubtedly considering many issues right now, depended mostly on the availability and responsiveness of the candidate. We are 100% volunteer-based so we could only reach out as far as the schedule and our resources allowed.
Our volunteers did attend in-person meetings with some candidates (our thanks to the candidates as well). We also offered dialog over the phone and by email. We made a real effort to show the candidates other solutions when they weren’t sure about the amendment idea. In many cases we showed them the American Anti-Corruption Act (AACA) and the Government By The People Act (GBTP). And finally we offered, upon request, the roughly 17,000 signed petitions in paper or PDF form. Or if they wished, we showed them petition signers from only their relevant district.
Every candidate was shown What’s Wrong with Money in Politics, three examples of amendment bills now in Congress, the list of states requesting an amendment proposal from Congress and the formal Ask document. Beyond that, the background information varied according to what feedback the candidate provided to us. Here’s an example of our Pitch.
What’s Wrong with Money in Politics is a list of effects that spring reliably from the moneyed approach to political campaigning and the effects of money aggregators like unions and lobbyists. Note that the effects of money are counter-productive for both sides of the political spectrum.
Outside Spending, Outsized Influence (PDF) shows a who’s who of outside interests trying to manipulate New Jersey congressional races. It’s immaterial which side they each represent, because in any election the most influential side can change, depending on which interest groups decide to meddle and for what objectives. Nor is the problem limited to national politics. Indeed, it may prove more significant at the state level, where local money is insufficient to turn back big outside moneyed interests who descend on state legislative races. First we saw an outside group sue the state for having campaign finance laws. Super PAC sues N.J. over contribution limits. Then we all watched the money flow in from outside. As the legal suit demonstrated, New Jersey as a state is forbidden by federal courts from truly regulating its own elections.
The Supreme Court has codified much of the problem by declaring that the expenditure of money is a form of free speech. We believe that the right to speak one’s true convictions and the privilege of amplifying one’s own views to a level that drowns out all others are two very different things. The court has also codified the idea that legal fictions, organizations and money aggregators can uniformly claim the same rights as that of a natural person and citizen. There is already evidence of foreign nationals using their affiliations to inject money into election campaigns in the USA. There are numerous other pitfalls to the concept. In the Citizens United case, the court also settled into the view that election and lobbying laws can only address explicit quid pro corruption. This is not merely wrong, but absurdly unrealistic. If white collar crime were held to this standard, using a method that didn’t succeed 100% of the time would form a valid defense.
But it gets worse. Recently the court declared it legal for one donor to give millions of dollars spread over the entire Congress or perhaps more likely over one party. The court rejected precedent which held that the appearance of corruption IS corruption. Handing over money to every congress person on a collection of key committees definitely looks like the purchase of influence. Many voters in our democracy, upon seeing this, deeply question the system’s integrity. But the court says it’s legal. Thus the problem worsens even as many are trying to fix it. For all of these reasons and several lesser concerns, NJOCU and many groups support at least one constitutional amendment to deal with the corrupting influence of money in politics.
In the 113th session of Congress there are two legislative strategies for amending the constitution. Under the first of these strategies, two bills each propose one of two needed amendments. One of the two amendments clarifies that persons and people in the constitution refer to actual persons and people, not artificial legal constructs. The other amendment asserts the responsibility and authority of the people’s government to regulate campaign finance. The second strategy combines both of these provisions into one bill that proposes one amendment. As such, these two strategies represent three bills on each side of the congress, i.e. in the House and the Senate, or six bills total. These two strategies have the greatest support in Congress (the most sponsors and co-sponsors). For this reason these bills are explicitly mentioned in the NJOCU “Ask.” We believe in a vigorous debate on how to best amend the constitution, but these bills form a good starting point. There are other amendment proposals. United 4 the People provides a complete list.
The New Jersey State legislature in 2012 passed AR86 and SR47 asking Congress for a constitutional amendment to deal with this problem. 15 other states have done similarly and within New Jersey 13 municipalities have joined the chorus. The current list of local and state entities that have passed such resolutions.
There are also legislative steps that might be taken without a constitutional amendment. The two most notable are the American Anti-Corruption Act (PDF) and the Government By the People Act (PDF). The AACA directly regulates lobbying and revolving door practices and funds elections with vouchers. The GBTP Act allocates public campaign funds that are so substantial that outside moneyed interests are disincentivized from competing. The formula is still based on citizen support and does not level the playing field artificially. Both bills have been vetted as constitutional even by current standards.
87% of ordinary people are angry at all the big money coming into our elections. NJOCU, like so many Americans, wants the SCOTUS decisions that are responsible for this deluge of money overturned. But even after amending the constitution, the working solution will be implemented as a law. With an amendment, the law will be simpler and more effective, but it will still be a law. NJOCU therefore supports the best laws we can possibly implement as soon as is possible, both before and after an amendment is passed.
At least 2/3 of nearly every identifiable political group in America is opposed to the corrupting influence of money in politics including such diverse groups as the Tea Party and MoveOn.org. Republicans and Democrats both poll in opposition to the increasingly influence of money over policy. Small business owners are one of the most concerned at 90%. A recent Gallop poll showed that when money in politics was included among options it polled as the country’s second most important issue behind jobs. It’s time to start talking, thinking and acting on this long endured distorting influence over our democracy.
Yesterday, April 2nd, 2014 – the Supreme Court delivered its ruling in McCutcheon v FEC striking down aggregate limits on campaign donations. Without aggregate limits, any person with enough money may give the maximum allowable donation to every single candidate for office in Congress. Or to every single member in a particular party. Or to every single member of a specific committee or combination of committees. By one account a person could invest $3.5 million into Congress every election cycle. A married couple, double that. The majority’s contention is that none of this could possible make Congress consider the donor’s interests before and above that of other citizens.
Susannah Newman, Coordinator for the NJOCU Coalition had this to say:
“The McCutcheon ruling, on top of the Citizens United ruling, clearly shows that the Court’s majority believes in the rights of the wealthy minority (which includes each of them) over the rest of us. Fair elections are now history. It is obvious, now more than ever, that a Constitutional Amendment is necessary; that people MUST rise up and reclaim their democracy. No congressional candidate should be voted into office this November without going on the record vociferously in support of a Constitutional Amendment to overturn both the Citizens United and the McCutcheon rulings.”
Lawrence Lessig on McCutcheon
Why McCutcheon decision is scarier than Citizens United (Salon)
Sen. John McCain blasts the Supreme Court’s decision (Business Insider)
Chief Justice Roberts says corruption is no worse than flag burning (Fox News)
“Probably eventually anonymously” (VIDEO – HuffPost)
Blistering Dissent (TPM)
What you need to know (TYT)
The Decision (written opinions of Justices)
The Takeway: Built into this decision is the notion that money is speech and that more money is more speech. Buckley v Valeo, which established the money/speech connection in 1976, did not hold that donations were speech, so this is a significant rejection of precedence. Meanwhile, it’s very hard to understand how amplifying the speech of a small group of people creates more speech in any case. What the ruling instead proves is that somehow, some way, the American citizenry must demand a constitutional amendment that gracefully allows for campaign finance law. At NJOCU, while we remain convinced that a purely legislative approach (such as the AACA or Government By the People Act) could significantly improve our democracy, the McCutcheon decision reminds us that the amendment solution must be pressed forward with vigor. Reclaim the People’s Constitution.
In what will possibly be a landmark decision in the history of American democracy, reality is strictly off limits.
Back in early October of 2013, activists rose together briefly to decry an expected court reversal of campaign finance limits. Yes, you read that correctly. The Supreme Court took on a new case that argues in favor of more money in our election process. 3 ½ years after the Citizens United decision; after the emergence of Super-PACs; after a money-fueled roller-coaster ride through the Republican primaries, after Sheldon Adelson’s help and hindrance to Mitt Romney, after a $2B+ presidential race; and even after the longest, most sustained, and most well-organized effort ever mounted AGAINST the corrupting influence of money in politics; we were watching the Supreme Court now questioning long established donor limits – limits that Citizens United had not touched. We were going backwards.
Contribution (donor) limits were found constitutional in Buckley v Valeo in 1976. The reasoning in Buckley was that giving money to a candidate looks a lot like a bribe. So far so simple. Even if the donor has no such designs, the appearance of corruption is treated as corrupting of trust. So, to avoid actual and apparent bribes, the amount that a donor may give to politicians may be limited by law. The reasoning is clear. With limits on each donor, no donor can stand out as deserving of political favors. Importantly, campaign donations were not held to be expressions of free speech. To campaign for office, the candidate expresses his or her own opinions. There is no assumption that the donor’s views will be expressed at all. So while a candidate can give to her own campaign and spend without limit, the donor has rules. The current limits for each donor are $2600 per candidate per election cycle and $123,000 dollars total per election cycle.
Alabama businessman, Shaun McCutcheon (along with the Republican National Committee), thinks that limiting the total amount he can give in any election cycle is unconstitutional. His reasoning is that if he can give $2600 to any one politician, and that is not considered corrupt, then he should be able to give that amount to as many politicians as he likes and not be considered corrupt. McCutcheon has said that he is not arguing with the dollar limit per candidate, only with the number of candidates (or total dollars). But in his written arguments, he questions the relevance of contribution limits in a campaign finance landscape so altered (broken) by Citizens United. When donors can give unlimited money to a PAC that campaigns for a candidate openly, and the total dollars reach stratospheric heights, is McCutcheon a victim of government censorship for following the direct candidate contribution rules?
The simple answer is “No,” but before exploring this twisty bit of nonsense, let’s back up and look at the reality of American politics under Buckley v Valeo, Citizens United and SpeechNOW. Currently, the average Senator wakes up every morning needing to find another $20,000+. By various estimates a congress person spends from 30 to 70% of her time beating the bushes for money. Money is essential for continued political survival. Congress people depend on money and that money comes from a tiny sliver of citizens. According to Lawrence Lessig a mere 0.26% (roughly one quarter of one percent) of Americans give $200 or more to any candidate. A smaller five one-hundredths of a percent give the maximum allowed to any candidate. And only one one-hundredth of a percent give more than $10,000 total. A mere 132 people provided 60% of all the (Citizens-United-SpeechNOW-enabled) PAC funding in the last election. None of this reality was discussed on McCutcheon’s day in court.
Instead the court listened to assertions on both sides, and then repeatedly asked how this or that specific funding transaction might alter an election outcome or buy a favor. Lyle Denniston on SCOTUS Blog asked, “If the Supreme Court really does not understand how money moves around in American politics, how can it fashion constitutional rules to prevent abuses?” A good question. But even more importantly, if the Supreme Court does not understand the basic concept of systemic corruption, the idea that the democracy is not representative of its people, then almost all of the detailed legalese is useless. According to Jeffrey Toobin in New Yorker magazine, Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in Citizens United, reduced the discussion of all corruption to the purchase of political favors – a giving of this for that (quid pro quo). Systemic corruption cannot be mentioned.
McCutcheon’s arguments fail on several accounts. Firstly consider his cynical question about the post Citizen United America of SuperPACs. The legal argument used for allowing independent entities, not coordinating with a candidate directly, to solicit and spend unlimited amounts of money is that they are speaking freely as protected in the First Amendment. Conversely, giving money directly to a politician has been held to not be free speech and it can look like a bribe. But why limit the number of candidates – McCutcheon’s original question? Because it takes more than one congress person to pass a bill. And because one donor can stand out among all donors in precisely this way. This is mind-numbingly simple. Mr. McCutcheon wants to buy himself a congress or a party or a caucus or a committee. Every day that his protégés meet to discuss the course of the democracy, they are nagged by their financial dependence on their patron. There will be at least one and probably many situations where they will consider the impact of their actions on their patron ahead of the public at large and perhaps even ahead of their own specific constituency.
We the People are not obliged to prove that this system of wrong dependencies serves only quid pro quo corruption, but frankly, there’s absolutely no reason to think it doesn’t. One gives the money. Another gives the outcome. The only question is really ‘how much corruption’ results. And the answer, unfortunately, is ‘plenty,’ because it ALL looks like corruption. Remember that the appearance of corruption has already been determined to be corruptive. In study after study, the American people have voiced that they see the system as corrupted. They disagree with Citizens United and expanded corporate personhood. They distrust moneyed-interests. They think there’s too much money in politics. More than 2/3 of nearly every identifiable group in politics has some if not major issues with how things work, from self-identified Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party advocates, members of MoveOn, union workers to small business owners there is a basic mistrust of financially dependent politicians. Our system is corrupted.
Just don’t try to tell that to the Supreme Court.
And that is the most painful aspect of this case. Almost everyone who has considered this case, seeing that the obvious real corruption cannot be mentioned in arguments, presumes that the overall contribution limits are about to fall. The system will tilt further off its axis. The activists who complained on the steps of the Supreme Court building back in October – they meekly wait. A decision is imminent, but there is no media campaign to shine a light on the issue. The McCutcheon case needs public discourse that the SCOTUS might actually recognize. But sadly it seems that if the people want to be heard, they’ll need to first find some very wealthy patrons.
What’s wrong with Money in Politics?
- Moneyed interests are often unconcerned with good government.
- Moneyed interests tend to make laws more complicated by inserting their specific (self-interested) demands. Complex laws make for BIGGER, less efficient government.
- Money interests will often encourage government to ‘pick a winner.’
- Moneyed interests tend to favor privatizing profits and socializing losses.
- Lobbyists, whose expertise is often needed in the legislative process, are now the same people most directly funding the politician’s campaign, thus compromising the objectivity of the exchange.
- Lobbyists gain such continued and familiar access to elected officials that policy focus is shifted away from representation of the actual constituency.
- Policies not related to money, but instead to issues like family values, civil rights, diversity or conservative social ideals, may be overwhelmed by political deal-making that seeks first and foremost to serve moneyed interests.
- Moneyed interests will support incumbent politicians just to gain access to committees or other political allies. This distorts the actual interests of the voters, and makes voter-instigated change much more difficult.
- The job of collecting money is too distracting. Not all of the players in the ‘arms race’ of campaign financing are willing participants. Many are dragged along. Many are rendered ineffective by the demands of constant campaigning and fundraising. This issue goes WAY beyond a simplistic case of ‘quid pro quo.’ This is systemic corruption.
- Money is NOT free speech. Money is just a volume knob on certain speech from certain political special interests.
- Corporate personhood, when combined with America’s treaty law, can actually result in the surrender of the sovereignty of federal, state and local governments to foreign moneyed interests.
- Small businesses, the engine of the Main Street economy, find that they now need to compete not only in the marketplace but in the in political arena. More than two-thirds of all small business owners disagree with Citizens United and even more complain that money in politics is bad for business.
- Money in Politics corrupts the fundamental vision of a democracy by and for the PEOPLE.
While money in politics does not always come from what we might all agree is a “moneyed interest,” it is important to understand that the distorting effects of money can be just as damaging in the hands of those with the best of intentions. The complaint here is not that those with money are wrong. It is the role of money itself that is wrong. Money should not be the final authority in determining what is discussed, what is heard, what is right or wrong or implemented or ignored.
I think it’s time to start pointing the corruption issue directly at the president. No, I’m not accusing Barack Obama of hiding bags of money in his freezer, nor am I complaining about corporate friendly policies he’s backed, although he’s backed some that have been troubling. But thinking strategically, we should be holding Obama to his own words on money in politics and lobbying. In “Republic, Lost,” Lawrence Lessig waxes poetic about Obama’s encouraging rhetoric leading into the 2008 election. And then Lessig points dismally to what really transpired.
To me this was always one of the singularly more promising aspects of candidate Obama and I KNOW personally several libertarians and conservatives who voted for him on that basis alone. The media hyped up Obama’s lyrical pronouncements – stuff about changing the business-as-usual culture in Washington and shutting the revolving door to K-Street, but the media had no interest in the real underlying promise. As soon as Obama was elected, we were right back to chasing one crisis after another and picking deeply partisan sides on everything. Why should the media have pressed Obama? The money wars are fought within the framework of media. They’re the beneficiaries. Only Obama himself can change the narrative.
So it seems that reaching Obama could matter. It takes 100,000 signatures to get a response from him directly. What we want is a truly one-issue face-forward press conference promoting his-own campaign promise – a public setting of priorities that puts the corrupting influence of money in politics squarely at the top. Sure the president will be distracted by more crisis-governance in the next few months. But maybe, just maybe he’ll also consider that setting this priority will allow him to control the narrative and more pieces on the chess board. Who knows, but we can’t complain if we haven’t tried. Please join me in telling the president to SAY IT.
“The number one priority in America should be to reduce the corrupting influence of money in the America political system.”
Just a reminder that this weekend is the first ever national demonstration against the corrupting influence of money in politics. The March Against Corruption is happening on Saturday, November 2nd , in cities all across America (and even internationally).
If this is the first you’ve heard about this march, be sure to watch this video.
In the New Jersey region there are Marches planned in NYC, Philadelphia, Allentown, PA and Wilmington, DE.
Starting at 12:00 noon
Saturday, November 2nd, 2013
In New York City the event starts in Zuccotti Park at 12:00 noon.
In Philadelphia the event starts at 12:00 noon in the Independence Mall at the corner of 5th Street and Market Street (Liberty Bell park lawn). The march concludes at City Hall.
Worldwide Web March Against Corruption
Going to the event – you can contact Mark Doenges at 856-906-4447
For an explanation of the underlying problems:
Short version: Watch the video.
Happening today, October 8th 2013, the Supreme Court takes up the case of McCutcheon v FEC. If you hear anything about this in the broader media (mainstream or otherwise), it will probably make an ambiguous comparison the Citizens United v FEC case. Both Citizens United and McCutcheon attack components of the current campaign finance law of the land, known as the McCain-Feingold Bi-partisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002. Back in 2010, Citizens United gutted some aspects of the BCRA, mainly those things having to do with ‘independent’ organizations spending money to influence elections.
In Buckley v Valeo 1976, the SCOTUS determined that politicians could spend whatever amount of money they wished to espouse their views. This holding was a key component of the argument in Citizens United, that independent political groups should not econounter limits on either spending or collecting funds. But Buckley v Valeo also found that giving money to a politician, even to help with the costs of campaigning, was very much like bribing him or her. The larger the donation, the more logically this conclusion might be drawn. It is worth noting here that the courts have held in numerous decisions that the appearance of corruption is just as damaging as corruption itself. So in essence, the SCOTUS affirmed the authority of Congress to set the maximum donation levels. Per person, per year, the maximum donation is $2,600 (per 2-yr election cycle of Congress people) (double this number for married couples). They can also give to various political party committees, who can then route the (soft) money to each politician.
Finally the Congress sets an ‘aggregate’ per person (per donor) maximum. Each individual can donate a combined total of $123,000 to all of the politicians and parties they support. McCutcheon argues that if the amount he can donate to any one politician is limited, then the matter is settled and there can be no appearance of a bribe, regardless of how many politicians he supports. The obvious counter-argument is that McCutcheon wants the aggregate limit struck down simply so that he can corrupt a wider pool of players. Why own just one politician or a few, when you can own the whole Congress. If the plaintiffs in the McCutcheon case win, the wealthiest Americans could spend $3.6 million per election to shape America’s laws.
One of the most disappointing aspects of this case is that Republican National Committee has decided to openly flaunt its predilection for money-based politics and is named as a co-plaintiff in this new case along with McCutcheon. Thus the RNC stands in direct opposition to what Republican voters in numerous polls have said they believe on the topic of money in politics – that it is wrong and leads to cronyism.
But in fact, there have always been ‘money-is-good’ Republican politicians. Tom Delay was open about his belief that the wealthy should control the game. In Delay’s view, those who could pay to play were inherently worthy of his time. To the victor (in the private sector) rightly go the spoils. To Delay’s credit he did also believe that such a system should be transparent. Alas, his subsequent actions in that area did not demonstrate a real commitment to the ideal.
Then there’s Mitch McConnell, who in 2003 was among the first to argue against the constitutionality of the BCRA. McConnell’s case had no major impact on the enforceability of the act, but subsequently Citizens United did. In Citizens United, the SCOTUS attacked any effort of the BCRA to control the spending side of campaigns. Since the Citizens United case, McConnell has been one of the nation’s most outspoken supporters of the decision, pointing out that for-profit corporations have seemed well-behaved under the new rules. But as we all can see, campaign financing has expanded enormously and a handful of wealthy people have at times been able to direct the political discourse. Today, McConnell is again on the scene with McCutcheon. This time we’re not talking about independent campaign expenditures. Now we’re talking about handing money over to politicians. This article offers a clear explanation:
Note that McConnell sees McCutcheon as an opportunity to convince the SCOTUS to look beyond the plaintiff’s arguments on aggregate limits and question the very foundation of campaign integrity, i.e. that campaign donations look like corruption and therefore can be treated differently than expenditures. In his view – it’s all protected by the free speech clause in the First Amendment. McConnell’s odds are slim by most accounts, but understand that he has filed an Amicus Brief and HAS BEEN INVITED to the hearings to argue his case in full. If he were to succeed, virtually every campaign finance law in the country would fall. Inequality of financial success in the private sector would translate directly to political and therefore in time legal inequality.
Alas, even if McConnell’s more extreme argument is ignored now, it may still win eventually. The court can hear his argument, give it some life, but then not really decide on his case either way. The first step in an incremental attack on campaign finance regulation is to end the aggregate limits on donors such as Mr. McCutcheon. From that precedent, new cases can gain a foothold. It’s not as though such plaintiffs will ever lack for the financial resources to argue such cases.
Buckey v Valeo
Citizen United v FEC
Campaign finance in the United States
Jeffrey Toobin writing for the New Yorker
On Citizens United
A bit of History. 2012 – New Jersey becomes the 9th State.
In the fall of 2011 The American Dream Movement of Cape May (led by Susannah Newman) discovered that Assemblyman Herb Conaway from Delran had proposed a bill to call on Congress to amend the constitutional to overturn Citizens United. Over the ensuing months these dedicated activists from Cape May showed the bill to their state senator (Senator Jeff Van Drew) and he authored an identical bill for the Senate side of the legislature. They also began the process of resurrecting the bill on the Assembly side of the legislature, where the original bill had actually died in committee. Assemblyman Herb Conaway stepped forward again. The language and intent of the original bill was completely retained in the two new bills ~ AR86 and SR47.
Using SignOn, New Jerseyans were encouraged to join in sending a message to state legislators and to the US Congress calling for a constitutional amendment. The petition caught fire. At last count this petition had the support of just under seven thousand New Jeseryans. By the time that both bills had re-emerged, the NJOCU movement was beginning to form. Several groups were now represented in the coalition. People from the SignOn petition a stayed active. NJOCU walked each bill through each step of the process – first through committees and then through passage in the general session.
On October 4th, 2012, New Jersey’s State Senate passed SR47.
On October 18th, 2012, when the New Jersey Assembly passed AR86, New Jersey became the 9th State in the nation to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizen United.
You can still sign the petition here to show YOUR support: NJ FOR THE OVERTURN OF CITIZENS UNITED
Statement to the Committee
NJOCU’s Mark Doenges spoke and answered questions before the New Jersey State Senate’s State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee in June of 2012. The following was his prepared statement.
Hello, honorable state legislators and committee members. I’ve been asked by the people who support Senator Van Drew’s bill before you today to offer some of my thoughts on this issue.
Loudness. If I were to speak to the committee today at 140 decibels, it would drown out every other voice in the room. No one could hear anything but me. I want you to understand that those of us who see problems stemming from the Citizens United decision and the role of money in politics, do not want to silence any views or curtail the freedom of speech. We don’t come here today with specific legal language for US Constitution, nor do we think that every idea in the Supreme Court’s decision is without merit. Certainly, the realities of campaign laws and reforms are complex.
But Loudness is not a right. If I spoke at 140 decibels, I would not only silence everyone else in this room, I would deafen them. Permanently. Forget about telling me to be civil, because I wouldn’t hear you either. If I were in your neighborhood, or on a street corner, or in the halls of Congress, I would not merely be shushed, I would be arrested. And the laws of the land would uphold that arrest.
People throughout America can tell that money is yelling. My suspicion is that even the sliver of people who don’t fully understand or admit it yet, still know it’s true. Americans aren’t asking for certain ideas to be censored or for certain people or modes of communication to be limited. We are simply saying that we all ~ we the people ~ have a right to free speech. And our rights are being trammeled.
We also fundamentally disagree with the notion that corporations are people. Yes, they have shareholders. But they also have management, employees and customers. So who then is this person? Corporations in fact are artificial entities chartered, as state legislators would understand very well, by State statutes. The word corporation does not appear in the U.S. Constitution anywhere.
Having said this, I want to make clear that this bill says nothing ill of corporations or of their role in society. This bill is certainly not anti-business. Indeed it is pro-business. Small business owners are right there among the people in this country who are saddened to see money treated as speech. They may already be competing with larger, louder companies in the marketplace. Now they find they are expected to compete in politics? That is not their mission. Small business owners argue that money in politics is the foundation of cronyism, and that small businesses are likely losers. When polled, two thirds of small business owners stood against the Citizens United decision and nearly 9 out of 10 viewed the role of money in politics negatively. The last I looked, 70 percent of America’s jobs were in small businesses. It is the engine that underpins our economy.
Loudness. It is not a right. In commerce it may be the spoils of victory, but in a democracy we want to be able hear what is being said. We want the right of free speech to endure for ALL. The simple, inescapable truth is that right now, Americans are going deaf. They are losing faith in the institutions of their governance. They’re losing faith in our elections. They are losing faith in our future. But understand that people have not yet lost their voice. We are here today to be heard. Join us and a growing national movement in taking this issue to the US Congress for remedy. These are critical times in our country’s history and we cannot afford a broken democracy. This is NOT a backburner issue upon which we should hem and haw. This is not a partisan issue with an ‘us’ and a ‘them.’ This is about the voice of the people. I ask you to join it.