Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

April 9, 2014

House of Burgess: If money is speech, poverty is silence

Aggregate campaign donation limits stricken

In an electoral system awash in every assortment of corruption and moneyed influence, most of the U.S. Supreme Court justices surveyed the landscape and decided the only answer was: more money. The court announced its decision in the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission case April 2.

“The Supreme Court’s divisive decision striking down a Watergate-era limit on campaign contributions was the latest milestone for conservative justices who are disassembling a campaign finance regime they feel violates free-speech rights,” reported Robert Barnes of The Washington Post on April 2. “The 5 to 4 decision [strikes] down the limit on the total amount of money wealthy donors can contribute to candidates and political committees.”

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen decried the ruling for what it was: the perpetuation of the landmark 2010 SCOTUS calamity, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. From the bench, Breyer exclaimed this latest decision “will open a floodgate.”

“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,” wrote Breyer in his dissent. “Taken together with Citizens United … 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.”

Speaking for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts was joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Samuel Alito. Justice Clarence Thomas agreed, but went even further than his colleagues. In his concurrence with Roberts, Thomas pined for the complete obliteration of all such confines.

“[McCutcheon] represents yet another missed opportunity to right the course of our campaign finance jurisprudence by restoring a standard that is faithful to the First Amendment,” wrote Thomas. “Until we undertake that reexamination, we remain in a ‘halfway house’ of our own design.”

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