Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The Same Political Speech Rights For Every Dollar! McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.

That's how American democracy works, my sweet and smart readers, and had you any doubts about that the most recent Supreme Court case on political donations lays those to rest:

The specific issue in McCutcheon was whether Congress could enact “aggregate contribution limits” on political donors. Under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (“McCain-Feingold”), individual donors are limited in how much they can give to individual candidates or party committees. These limits, called “base limits,” were not at issue in McCutcheon. But the BCRA also limits the “aggregate amount” any one donor can give to all federal candidates and committees in a given election cycle—a total of $48,600 to individual candidates and $74,600 to committees.
Plaintiff Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman, wants to give more than that—$1,776.00 to a total of a dozen more candidates than he has already supported during the 2014 cycle. He brought suit alleging that the aggregate limits burden his First Amendment rights. Four justices of the Court (Roberts plus Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Samuel Alito) agreed that the aggregate limits violate McCutcheon’s rights; Clarence Thomas provided the fifth vote for McCutcheon, but wrote separately to suggest that both base and aggregate limits are unconstitutional.
The plaintiff's dollars weren't given the rights for political speech!  He had many which had to stay silent, hiding in his pocketses.  Sure, he could send small "I love you" checks to many politicians, but he wanted to send large "I love you" checks.  Well, now he can, to really express his gratitude.

On that gratitude, here's one of the five conservative Justices whose views of democracy are such that they worry a lot about the political rights of dollars and very little about the voting rights of flesh-and-blood human beings:

“[G]overnment regulation may not target the general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford,” Roberts writes. “They embody a central feature of democracy—that constituents support candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who are elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns.”

And that gratitude can now be multiplied by those who have more dollars to give.  Those dollars give them more access to politicians, more "thank you" letters from the same politicians and, naturally, enough, more attention to the causes the dollars support.  That the richer you are the more access you will get to this "central feature of democracy" doesn't matter in the alternative reality Justice Roberts inhabits, because there every dollar is created equal, and it's not the fault of those dollars if they are rather unequally divided across the populace.

Once we have all drunk that Kool-Aid and accepted the new definition of Dollar Democracy, why have any sort of regulation of political giving at all?  Why not let the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch and others of that ilk simply buy the best government money can get for them?   After all, the Republican Supremes are not worried about rent-seeking, not at all.

Well, they mutter reluctantly, there's still some limited scope for outright corruption but what with all those computers and IT, any actual crooks will be easily caught.  But as Justice Breyer notes in his dissent: 

...the First Amendment advances not only the individual's right to engage in political speech, but also the public's interest in preserving a democratic order in which collective speech matters.
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. [...]

Bolds are mine.  If we allow only a few people access to the foghorn in the political debates, the voices of those without the horn will not be heard at all.  What's perhaps more important, they won't matter much in a system where only dollars are awarded equal political speech rights.

The decision can be found here (pdf).  Some ideas for activism can be found here.