Tag Archives: mccutcheon

Money Control of Politics: The Broken American Promise and How to Fix It

Just a quick blog today to mention an event in Morristown, NJ on Thursday evening of this week. These speakers are excellent and will take you to the heart of the money in politics question. I strongly recommend making this event. New Jersey Get Money Out groups will have people there as well.  Don’t miss it.

Details and Registration here.  NJPPN Money Control Program – or check out the details below:

CthenK
Thursday, April 28, 2016

7:30pm – 9:30pm

CONVENT OF SAINT ELIZABETH

2 Convent Rd *
Morristown, NJ 07960

 

The Citizens United decision has led to an unprecedented influx of money in our elections, causing a shift of political power away from ordinary citizens and toward the large money donors. Witnessing growing governmental dysfunction and the non-responsiveness of elected officials, too many Americans no longer trust the political process. Our democratic system includes powerful mechanisms for repair, but fixing the broken American promise will require concerted citizen action.

Speakers:

 

Timothy K. Kuhner is associate professor of law at Georgia State University and author of Capitalism v. Democracy: Money in Politics and the Free Market Constitution. He will discuss how the Supreme Court went wrong in applying a market-based analysis to the political sphere of our Constitution, and how this has caused the effective transformation of our form of government from a democracy to a plutocracy.

Jeffrey D. Clements is president of American Promise, co-founder of Free Speech for People and author of Corporations are Not People: Reclaiming Democracy from Big Money and Global Corporations. He will speak to how the political transformation has resulted in major legislative changes that benefit special interests rather than the public interest, and how this can be remedied by passage of the 28th amendment and other citizen action.

SEATING IS LIMITED

 

PRE-REGISTER TODAY at www.njppn.org or info@njppn.org

* Directions from Rt. 124/Madison Ave: turn off Madison Ave onto Convent Rd, cross tracks, make first right at guard station and park in front of large building w/portico.

 

North Jersey Public Policy Network is a non-partisan, 501c3 organization committed to providing authoritative information on key public policy issues to its network and to the public.

The State of Money in Politics – Star Panel at Lipton Hall

The Brennan Center for Justice presents

The State of Money in Politics

 

Thursday, May 7, 2015
6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

 

6:00 p.m. Registration and Reception
6:30 p.m. Program

 

Lipton Hall, NYU School of Law
108 West Third Street
New York, NY 10012

 

featuring:

 

Jeff Clements
Board Chair, Free Speech for People
Author, Corporations Are Not People

 

Zephyr Teachout
Associate Professor, Fordham Law School
Author, Corruption in America

 

Ellen Weintraub
Commissioner, Federal Election Commission

 

moderated by:

 

Daniel Weiner
Counsel, Brennan Center for Justice

 

The Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Citizens United v. FEC reshaped the American political landscape, giving the wealthy more power to influence elections than at any time since Watergate and opening the floodgates for dark money in U.S. elections. Five years after the Supreme Court decision that set these trends in motion, what is the state of money in politics today? What are the emerging issues and paths for reform going forward?

 

**Attendees will receive 1.5 CLE credits in the Areas of Professional Practice. Credit will be both transitional and non-transitional.**

 

Please RSVP at http://www.brennancenter.org/event/state-money-politics#RSVP

 

If you have any questions, please contact Brennan Center Events Manager, Jafreen Uddin, at jafreen.uddin@nyu.edu or 646.292.8345.

Join the fight with your Clicktivism

Sometimes ACTIVISM is EASY. You click on stuff and make your opinion known. It’s known as clicktivism and WE ARE CLICKING here at New Jersey for the Overturn of Citizens United. JOIN US!

 

First off – are you on Twitter? Please follow us on Twitter!
www.twitter.com/njocu

Or on Facebook? We’re there too.
www.facebook.com/njocu

 

You may have seen that Common Cause is petitioning Obama to use an Executive Order to make Federal Contractors disclose their political spending. At NJOCU we are hopeful that THIS particular petition can garner 100,000 signatures over the next three weeks. Please CLICK now – and sign.
Whitehouse Dot Gov Petition to the President

 

Oh and by the way, if you’re ambitious, you can sign Common Cause’s petition too.
Common Cause Petition to the President

 

Now admit it. That was pretty easy, eh? Yeah, there will be hard stuff later. But it’s always easier when we stand together.

 

Ten Brief Arguments for AMEND and REFORM

By Susannah Newman    (posted by administrator)

A&R

Recent SCOTUS decisions:

In 2010, Citizens United equated money with free speech under the 1st Amendment and restated in stronger terms that a corporation is the same as a natural born person with regard to campaign spending. A few months later, the Speech Now decision created the SuperPAC and this year the McCutcheon decision removed aggregate contribution limits by an individual from campaign finance laws. Finally, with the Hobby Lobby decision, SCOTUS has conferred corporate religious rights for bosses over the rights of employees.

Ten Brief arguments against these decisions to be taken together, in combination or separately:

The problem of money in politics can only be fixed by grassroots pressure on politicians to pass 1) a constitutional amendment, which will lay the path for 2) unchallengeable campaign finance reforms. 87%-90% of voters across the spectrum agree that overturning the above decisions is A MUST.

Big money has become deafening and drowns out the voices of the ordinary citizen, whose single vote cannot compete with the voting power given to the billionaire or the large corporation or unions through unlimited campaign donations.

A Constitutional Amendment giving Congress the power to limit election spending will RESTORE the 1st Amendment by amplifying the voices of ordinary citizens to a more equitable level; i.e. government by the people, not by the money. With such an amendment in place, necessary campaign finance reform laws, such as the Government by the People Act and the DISCLOSE Act) will be safe from a SCOTUS challenge.

While corporations are composed of people, they are NOT, in fact, people, but LEGAL ENTITIES created by the state. Nowhere in the Constitution is the word “corporation” even mentioned. (The founding fathers’ fear of corporate and moneyed power is well documented.) Today corporations are global and through these recent SCOTUS decisions, foreign interests can influence elections and therefore policy.

Who has more access to a congressional office: the one who gave $300,000 or the one who gave $30 to the campaign? Unfortunately, candidates must now go after the big money: one $100,000 donation is easier to get than ten thousand $10 donations. Good public servants are made complicit in this corrupting system.

For example, why is it that 90% of the American people want background checks on gun ownership, but Congress has NOT passed any common sense legislation to control gun violence? FOLLOW THE MONEY and its accompanying OVERT POLITICAL INTIMIDATION.

The greatest fear that any candidate has is that just before the election, some anonymously funded SuperPAC will drop $1 million in ads, etc… against him/her. To become insulated from this tactic, BIG MONEY donors are sought who, in turn, insist the candidate agree with the donors’ politics. This is a corrupting reality.

In 2012, 132 Americans funded 60% of SuperPAC money. By 2014, that number will represent only .01% of America, which clearly makes our governmental system no longer a representative democracy. Our current Congress is not dependent “on the People alone”, but on the Funders. This is corruption. Not bribery, but corruption. We need only look to the days of the Robber Barons to know how money in politics corrupts and, sadly, destroys lives.

While there is rarely actual, legally verifiable, quid pro quo corruption (politicians and plutocrats are too careful for that), evidence of implied corruption and policy-by-money is seen by voters all over the country. This has contributed to unparalleled cynicism and distrust of government; BIG MONEY is responsible for this.

Time is running out. We are quickly becoming a plutocracy and losing our democracy. Power now comes from money and public policy is driven by corporate interests over the long-term best interests of the People. We must AMEND the CONSTITUTION and then REFORM CAMPAIGN FINANCE.

SJR19 – a reasonable bill to amend our constitution – Time for a Push

OverturningAfter 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

(202) 224-2353

Contact: www.pryor.senate.gov/contact

 

Donnelly, Joe – (D – IN)

720 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510

(202) 224-4814

Contact: www.donnelly.senate.gov/contact/email-joe

 

Landrieu, Mary L. – (D – LA)

703 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510

(202) 224-5824

Contact: www.landrieu.senate.gov/?p=contact

 

Kaine, Tim – (D – VA)

388 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510

(202) 224-4024

Contact: www.kaine.senate.gov/contact

 

Warner, Mark R. – (D – VA)

475 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510

(202) 224-2023

Contact: www.warner.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=Contact

 

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

(202) 224-2235

Contact: www.mccain.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact-form

 

Murkowski, Lisa – (R – AK)

709 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510

(202) 224-6665

Contact: www.murkowski.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=Contact

 

Kirk, Mark – (R – IL)

524 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510

(202) 224-2854

Contact: www.kirk.senate.gov/?p=contact

 

Paul, Rand – (R – KY)

124 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510

(202) 224-4343

Contact: www.paul.senate.gov/?p=contact

 

Collins, Susan M. – (R – ME)

413 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510

(202) 224-2523

Contact: www.collins.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/email

 

Cochran, Thad – (R – MS)

113 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510

(202) 224-5054

Contact: www.cochran.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/email-me

 

Heller, Dean – (R – NV)

324 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510

(202) 224-6244

Contact: www.heller.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact-form

 

Coburn, Tom – (R – OK)

172 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510

(202) 224-5754

Contact: www.coburn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contactsenatorcobu

 

Portman, Rob – (R – OH)

448 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510

(202) 224-3353

Contact: www.portman.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact?p=contact

 

Alexander, Lamar – (R – TN)

455 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510

(202) 224-4944

Contact: www.alexander.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=Email

 

Ayotte, Kelly – (R – NH)

144 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510

(202) 224-3324

Contact: www.ayotte.senate.gov/?p=contact

 

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

http://freespeechforpeople.org/node/733

 

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):
http://freespeechforpeople.org/node/526

 

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:

http://act.credoaction.com/sign/sjres_19

 

The Daily Kos gives some background on its petition and that of other groups as well, showing that several groups are working together.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/09/04/1327179/-Senate-to-vote-on-repealing-Citizens-United-Monday-Something-you-can-do-that-will-take-5-minutes

Here’s the Daily Kos petition.

https://www.dailykos.com/campaigns/788

 

 

Susannah Newman contributed significantly to this article.

We Have Answers from U.S. House Candidates in New Jersey

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.

 

See the NJOCU U.S. House candidate “Ask” Results

 

…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.

THE RESULTS

 

BACKGROUND:

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.

 

McCutcheon v FEC ruling proves one thing

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
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/04/02/originalists-making-it-up-again-mccutcheon-and-corruption.html

Why McCutcheon decision is scarier than Citizens United (Salon)
http://www.salon.com/2014/04/02/scalias_next_disaster

Sen. John McCain blasts the Supreme Court’s decision (Business Insider)
http://www.businessinsider.com/supreme-court-mccutcheon-decision-campaign-contributions-2014-4

Chief Justice Roberts says corruption is no worse than flag burning (Fox News)
http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/04/02/high-court-voids-overall-contribution-limits/

“Probably eventually anonymously” (VIDEO – HuffPost)
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/02/mccutcheon-v-fec_n_5076518.html

Blistering Dissent (TPM)
http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/liberal-justices-blistering-dissent-mccutcheon

What you need to know (TYT)
http://www.tytnetwork.com/2014/04/03/need-know-mccutcheon-v-fec-ruling/

SCOTUS Blog
http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/mccutcheon-v-federal-election-commission/

The Decision (written opinions of Justices)
http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-536_e1pf.pdf

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.

 

What Can’t Be Said

In what will possibly be a landmark decision in the history of American democracy, reality is strictly off limits.

More Pols Taking Cash

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?

What’s wrong with Money in Politics?

  1. Moneyed interests are often unconcerned with good government.
  2. Moneyed interests tend to make laws more complicated by inserting their specific (self-interested) demands.  Complex laws make for BIGGER, less efficient government.
  3. Money interests will often encourage government to ‘pick a winner.’
  4. Moneyed interests tend to favor privatizing profits and socializing losses.
  5. 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.
  6. Lobbyists gain such continued and familiar access to elected officials that policy focus is shifted away from representation of the actual constituency.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Money is NOT free speech.  Money is just a volume knob on certain speech from certain political special interests.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.

SAY IT! Mr. President

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.

WE PETITION THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO… SAY IT!

“The number one priority in America should be to reduce the corrupting influence of money in the America political system.”

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/say-it-corrupting-influence-money-politics-must-end-campaign-promise-our-number-one-priority/dQVWLfgg