“Where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard.”
Justice Breyer, in his dissent on McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission
April 2, 2014.
It’s a sad day in America. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling on McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission. The McCutcheon decision has essentially over-turned Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1 (1976) (per curiam), a forty year ruling that imposed campaign contribution limits on aggregate dollar amounts (limits on the number of the total campaigns to which an individual may contribute) in an effort to reduce or limit political corruption. Today’s ruling has effectively handed over all political power to the mega-rich and left our politicians even more susceptible to corruption, bribery, unbridled campaign and soft-money finance, and scandal.
Money has truly drowned out the cries of the common citizenry.
Almost more important than the majority opinion itself, is the dissenting opinion that issues a grave warning. Justice Breyer wrote in his dissent that recent history has proven “There was an indisputable link between generous political donations and opportunity after opportunity to make one’s case directly to a Member of Congress.” McCutcheon combined with the landmark Citizens United case have opened the door for the super-rich to have unlimited access at the expense of the working man.
Justice Breyer’s dissent is judicial insight into the catastrophic end of our democracy.
Justice Breyer, with whom Justice Ginsburg, Justice Sotomayor, and Justice Kagan joined, penned the dissent, which, in my personal opinion is a landmark moment in time when we have four Supreme Court Justices that agree – the mega-wealthy have overrun the people, and corruption has indeed, taken hold of our political system in a way that will inevitably implode this nation. The opinion’s excerpts below offer a prudent theme: the Supreme Court should NOT be legislating from the bench – and the First Amendment should not be used as a divisive and cloaked weapon against the public to lure public servants into a world of corruption over justice.
Justice Breyer, Dissenting. Justice Ginsburg, Justice Sotomayor, and Justice Kagan joined.
“It understates the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institutions. It creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign. Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, 558 U. S. 310 (2010), today’s decision eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.” And
“What has this to do with corruption? It has everything to do with corruption. Corruption breaks the constitutionally necessary “chain of communication” between the people and their representatives. It derails the essential speech-to-government-action tie. 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. That is one reason why the Court has stressed the constitutional importance of Congress’ concern that a few large donations not drown out the voices of the many. See, e.g., Buckley, 424 U. S., at 26–27.” And,
“The “appearance of corruption” can make matters worse. It can lead the public to believe that its efforts to communicate with its representatives or to help sway public opinion have little purpose. And a cynical public can lose interest in political participation altogether. See Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC, 528 U. S. 377, 390 (2000)”
Justice Breyer furthers that the Supreme Court should NOT be legislating from the bench:
“Determining whether anticorruption objectives justify a particular set of contribution limits requires answering empirically based questions, and applying significant discretion and judgment. To what extent will unrestricted giving lead to corruption or its appearance? What forms will any such corruption take? To what extent will a lack of regulation undermine public confidence in the democratic system? To what extent can regulation restore it? These kinds of questions, while not easily answered, are questions that Congress is far better suited to resolve than are judges. Thus, while court review of contribution limits has been and should be “rigorous,” Buckley, 424 U. S., at 29, we have also recognized that “deference to legislative choice is warranted.” Beaumont, 539 U. S., at 155. And that deference has taken account of facts and circumstances set forth in an evidentiary record.”
“The result, as I said at the outset, is a decision that substitutes judges’ understandings of how the political process works for the understanding of Congress; that fails to recognize the difference between influence resting upon public opinion and influence bought by money alone; that overturns key precedent; that creates huge loopholes in the law; and that undermines, perhaps devastates, what remains of campaign finance reform. With respect, I dissent.”
On a personal note, I almost wept when reading this dissent; knowing fully that our politicians are enslaved by the corporations and mega-rich 1% that finance them. That never again will our public servants be in the position to fight for the everday working man. Forty years of safeguards against political corruption have been erased with the swift swipe of the pen by Chief Justice Roberts in corroboration with Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Alito… and reluctantly, Justice Thomas.
God help us.