The U.S. Supreme Court is well on its way to ending effective campaign finance laws.
Representative democracy requires representatives answerable to voters, not rich donors.
Koch Brothers and the liberal George Soros lies the common ground on which most Americans agree on at least one thing: It is not in their republic’s best interests for a few rich people and wealthy interests to control the political system.
Yet that is exactly what is happening in America. The Supreme Court, through two decisions in recent years, has unleashed an astounding amount of money into politics. And the stakes are about to go up — way up.
New York Times has reported that the billionaire Koch brothers recently signaled their intent to spend $889 million on the 2016 election through their political network — more than the Democratic and Republican candidates for president each spent in 2012, and about one-fourth of the spending on races for Congress that year.
It doesn’t matter if it’s the Kochs, the banks and corporations, or Mr. Soros, big labor and Hollywood. America’s political debate is being increasingly dominated by the few voices that have enough money to shout out everyone else.
The Supreme Court allowed this through its 2010 Citizens United decision, which held that corporations and unions have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money on politicians, and its 2014 McCutcheon ruling, which found total limits on campaign contributions unconstitutional.
Together, these cases herald a political system in which money rules — not voters. Call it what you choose — an oligarchy, a plutocracy, an aristocracy minus the titles — it is not government of the people.
We are hardly the only ones worried about this and the damage it is doing to representative government. Polls show that voters are disillusioned and voting less. Small-business owners say they can’t get their voices heard in government. Four out of five Americans favor limits on political spending, with strong majorities across the political spectrum.
The high court may have the final say on what the Constitution means, but the people have the final word on what the Constitution says. It is time for a constitutional amendment that puts citizens back in charge of their political system and their government. We need an amendment that empowers Congress and the states to regulate and set reasonable limits on political donations and spending, and to distinguish between human beings and inanimate legal entities.
So far, 16 states have called for such an amendment. New York should add its name to the list. More than half the Assembly is willing to do so; resistance remains among Republican state senators, who are reluctant to put limits on the money that comes with their control of the chamber.
They should reconsider, and their constituents should urge them to think again and choose the public good over political expediency. If nothing else, they should remember: Power is fleeting. There will likely come a day when they’ll wish they had done the right thing.