WASHINGTON – Supreme Court justices on the right have said for years that a corporation is like a person and should be treated accordingly. This notion of corporate political cash as humanoid was conceived deep in the bowels of the court four decades ago.
Thanks to the Roberts court, a few days ago this embryo burst forth full-grown, like a sea monster out of a postwar Japanese film.
It does not promise to destroy our civic ideal of informed Americans making individual, prudent decisions at election time. It will destroy it.
The average American voter just got a lot littler thanks to the ruling McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, and the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
The mechanics of McCutcheon are simple enough. It raises the limit on individual contributions to candidates from $123,200 per election to $3.6 million. There are wealthy people around town who can manage the six-figure donation every two years; but this new number takes participation to a level where only billionaires can sit at the table.
This fixes play firmly into the camp of the 1 percent.
The rationale, written by Roberts, shows how completely isolated or biased the court’s majority is on this myth concerning money as people. The idea started with the 1970s decision Buckley v. Valeo. It removed some hard-won limits on campaign finance, but left most of them intact.
Then came Citizens United v. FEC, 2010. This took away all limits on gifts for indirect spending for and against candidates by supposedly independent organizations. Using the two first cases as support for the majority’s views, Roberts has served up a dreamy tub of dishwater in McCutcheon. There is a difference, he contends, between trying to influence a candidate’s election and actually trying to influence how the candidate behaves after he/she is elected.
“Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to such quid pro quo corruption,” so said Roberts, writing for the majority.
What planet have these five justices been living on? Roberts presumes that the billions spent on federal elections have not – have not – been ladled out to influence an “officeholder’s official duties.” Wow!
Citizens United unleashed a cascade of independent spending; about $20 million before the 2010 decision and almost $200 million in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The result will likely be even greater with McCutcheon, because the money will go directly to the candidate.
President Obama in 2010 had harsh words about Citizens United. So did Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the Senate Rules Committee. Schumer, the third-ranking Senate Democrat, two years ago said Citizens United is the worst court decision in more than a century and that a constitutional amendment was probably necessary.
Schumer is considering holding a hearing on the effects of McCutcheon. But a constitutional amendment restoring to Congress the power to limit campaign spending to human – not Godzilla – dimensions is on a slow boat to Martha’s Vineyard.
No such amendment will pass the Republican House. Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., who must clear any amendment, believes the amendment route takes too long and that statutory fixes might help.
The most recent action the Senate took was to refer one resolution overturning Citizens United to committee last June 18. Received and filed. Besides, Obama and liberal Democratic groups have raised a lot of money – just like the Republicans – on the rules loosened by this Supreme Court.