On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the single most important campaign finance case since the Citizens United case.
Shaun McCutcheon, a billionaire from Alabama, and the Republican Party are asking, sort of, more like telling, the Supreme Court to strike down some of our most effective campaign contribution limits; limits that keep rich people from totally owning politicians. After all, Shaun McCutcheon and the Republicans know rich people own politicians anyway.
Nevertheless, depending on how the court decides McCutcheon, our democracy could continue on as is or fall further down the path towards an all-out oligarchy. You know, that’s when the rich people call all the shots and everybody else takes them . . . to the head, the gut, the heart.
Yet, a little background research tells us, believe it or not, that most members of Congress actually hate raising money. Sure, they have to do it to run their campaigns every election cycle, but it’s a pretty boring, time-consuming process. Think of how much more time they could spend on the golf course, or boozing, or going on some paid-for trip with their spouses and paramours.
In fact, a leaked PowerPoint presentation put together by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for rookie congress members recommended that they block off around half of their 10-hour work day for different fundraising activities. Well fundraising issues, I take it, would mean speaking to their constituencies, which could mean about 5-hours a day, the other 5 doing the business of Congress, and finding ways to work with their colleagues on the other side of the aisle.
That’s why on Wednesday, while the Supreme Court was hearing arguments in the McCutcheon case, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sent over his handpicked lawyer, Bobby Burchfield, to do something about this. On behalf of McConnell, Burchfield asked the court’s nine justices to scrap all limits on the amount of donations an individual (not just corporation) can make to candidates during an election cycle.
Right, let’s keep this simple. There are 320 million plus people in this country and Bobby-boy Burchfield could make just one of them president with all the money he could suck up from his country-club friends. Why waste all that money, time and energy campaigning about the issues? It wears a man or woman out.
If the court actually swallows McConnell’s argument like a shot of good bourbon, any congress member could fund his/her campaign with money from one single donor, and avoid all that cussed time spent attending dinners or making phone calls to rich people in his/her district. Similarly, senators, let’s not forget about them, could run their campaigns with just a few big donors. So what if more than one person on each side of the aisle wants to run, what do we do about that? Have an arm-wrestling match to winnow out the strong from the weak?
In effect, McConnell asked the court, through Burchfield, to allow mega-rich donors like Sheldon Adelson (you know, the guy who spent $150 million on behalf of Republicans last election) to have the total and unrestricted freedom to hire their own politicians. Well, isn’t that what we got now? Jes-us! Don’t people get these things?
McConnell wants the court to take a more extreme position on campaign finance than is actually at stake in the McCutcheon case. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s doctrine of money as speech, there’s a good chance the court could take his side. If that happens, the court would essentially legalize campaign bribery as paid-for free speech protected under the First Amendment.
Yes, it is stupid and unnecessary. When Congress has had the chance to regulate campaign finance on its own, without interference from unelected bodies like the Supreme Court, it’s actually chosen to limit the kind of Billy-boy bribery that Mitch McConnell wants to unleash on our elections. The 2002 McCain-Feingold act is the most recent example of this.
Of course, there are other solutions to the problem of fundraising besides legalizing bribery. In Maine and Arizona, for example, campaigns were almost completely public-funded until the Supreme Court stepped in and stopped the practice. We didn’t want no filthy public-funded campaigns. .
But striking down limits on individual campaign donations, like Mitch McConnell wants the Supreme Court to do, isn’t just stupid and unnecessary, it’s downright dangerous for the health of our democracy. It won’t be democracy anymore. It will be oligarchy. I mean we’re more than halfway there already.
Money, unlike real speech, is inherently unequal. Rich people, like Sheldon Adelson, can spend a lot more on the candidate of their choice than average middle or working class Americans can. This creates a situation where wealthy donors are more important to campaigns than regular donors. Moneyed donors talk, regular donors walk, right Mitch?
At that point, there is very little separating campaign donations from the kind of outright bribery used by Mafia dons. Even Tony Soprano knew that. In Mitch McConnell’s dream America, candidates who receive big contributions from the Sheldon Adelson types would have a built-in incentive, an even bigger one than they have now under the Citizens United system, to push for policies that benefit their donors.
When this happens, the issues that affect average Americans, the people who can’t afford to spend tens of millions of dollars on one candidate, will be ignored, which is exactly what the Richie Riches want. Hey, no problem. Let Bobby-boy do it.
Things wouldn’t be much different if the court takes the less-extreme approach to campaign bribery proposed by the people arguing the McCutcheon case: unlimited total donations. It’s like winning the lottery. If the court allows this, wealthy donors could launder up to $3.6 million through political parties and committees, turning the candidates of their choice into personal property, the richest slaves in the history of the country. But isn’t that what we have now?
When candidates are the property of the wealthy few and do their bidding, our nation stops being a democracy reflecting the will of “We the People” and starts to become something else, a political system ultimately controlled by those at the very top. An oligarchy with a shining eye in the top of the pyramid.
The ancient Greeks had a word for this kind of political system. They called it an oligarchy, which literally means government by the few. If the Supreme Court sides with Mitch McConnell, Shaun McCutcheon, or the Republican Party, and strikes down sensible limits on campaign donations, we will be one more step down the road to a government controlled by the few, the billionaire few. And we would be a few steps closer to an Egyptian-style revolution.
And that’s a pretty terrifying idea. In The Republic, the Greek philosopher Plato warned that all oligarchies eventually descend into violence and chaos because control of political institutions by the wealthy few breeds the kind of hatred that only comes from extreme inequality. Well said, Plato. Inequality in America right now is at the highest it’s ever been. And if the Supreme Court rules in favor of McCutcheon, it will tip the scales of justice not only into oligarchy but anarchy (produced by the hatred). You can see it all over the Middle East.
Luckily, there is an alternative to oligarchy and the chaos that comes from it. And that alternative is a constitutional amendment declaring once and for all that money is not speech. Amen. If we want to take back our hijacked democracy from the billionaires and their lackeys in Congress, then we need to take away their lifeblood: the uncontrolled flow of money into our elections—and maybe their real-life blood if not.
So, go to movetoamend.org and find out what you can do to say no to the billionaires and oligarchy, and say yes to democracy and the will of the people.
Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer and life-long resident of New York City. An EBook version of his book of poems “State Of Shock,” on 9/11 and its after effects is now available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. He has also written hundreds of articles on politics and government as Associate Editor of Intrepid Report (formerly Online Journal). Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.