The Supreme Court is back in session on Monday and the very next day they will hear a case that could have huge implications for the role of money in politics. Both sides of the political spectrum should take notice because as we’ve seen before in politics, money is absolutely power. Politico.com explains: “McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the lawsuit challenging the total amount of money a single donor can give to all federal candidates could have far-reaching implications for the way campaigns and political parties are financed. The court’s 2010 Citizens United decision has entered the vernacular as shorthand for the explosion of money in politics. That case, along with another that allowed the creation of super PACs, led to donors writing multimillion-dollar checks. Because of the way modern campaigns are financed — by candidates partnering with federal, state and local parties — McCutcheon’s lawsuit could have the consequence of allowing politicians to ask a single donor for $1 million a pop, or more.
It’s important to remind ourselves of what has changed by Citizens United allowing exponentially greater sums of money to be entered into the electoral process. The 2012 Presidential election was the first real test of the new laws and the ultra-rich were predictably giddy with the possibility of spending their fortunes on their favored candidate.
Sheldon Adelson alone spent an estimated $70 million on Republican candidates in the 2012 election, and has said that he wants to double that during the next election. During the election the New York Times reported just how mind boggling large the money had gotten: “Conservative groups alone, including a super PAC led by Karl Rove and another group backed by the brothers Charles and David Koch, will likely spend more than a billion dollars trying to take down Barack Obama by the time November rolls around. The reason for this exponential leap in political spending, if you talk to most Democrats or read most news reports, comes down to two words: Citizens United. The term is shorthand for a Supreme Court decision that gave corporations much of the same right to political speech as individuals have, thus removing virtually any restriction on corporate money in politics. The oft-repeated narrative of 2012 goes like this: Citizens United unleashed a torrent of money from businesses and the multimillionaires who run them, and as a result we are now seeing the corporate takeover of American politics.
Now, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission wants to further remove the barriers from money into campaigns by allowing single donors to spend millions on a political party group. It’s important to note that this form of over the table bribes were warned about during the Citizens United arguments. During the ruling, Justice Kennedy worried that allowing unfettered donations to a single group or candidate directly from a donor could easily wind up with, as he called it, “quid pro quo corruption.” The danger being the pressure a big money donor could exert over a candidate if that candidate knew the donor was solely responsible for the large sums of money that were keeping his campaign afloat. Bribes be any other name.
Should the ruling go in favor of the plaintiffs (surprise, surprise, one of which is the Republican National Committee) then it could also have a domino effect on other questions of campaign finance. Poltico.com again: “Though the case deals only with the total donation cap, the court could use the opportunity to undercut — or toss — the laws governing contribution limits to candidates. Or, more likely, it could crack open the door for other challenges that would further roll back the campaign-finance system that has been in place since the early 1970s. “That could potentially throw a lot of things into question” said Larry Norton, an election-law expert with the law firm Venable and a former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission.”
Needless to say, people should be worried about what this ruling could lead to. As the case is argued on Tuesday, it will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court tackles it. Perhaps with the shutdown and looming debt ceiling showdown most people will not being paying attention as their democratic voices become weaker and weaker, drowned out by the noise of money, but people like the Koch brothers will certainly be paying attention.