Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission (McCutcheon) and decided to strike down the aggregate limits on campaign finance contributions. The reasoning, according to Justice John Roberts, who delivered the Court’s opinion along with Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Alito, is that the right to spend money on elections is the same as the freedom to speak.
Justice Roberts is either naive or misguided and neither option is becoming of the nation’s highest legal authority.
The political landslide that has been won in the Court started with Citizens United, a case that, in the view of the nation, was horribly unpopular. This decision put the nation on a crash-course with the devastation that awaits unbridled and unchecked spending by corporations and private interests in our national discussions and elections.
In the words of the dissenting opinion in McCutcheon, delivered by Justice Breyer, along with Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, “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.”
But what does a world in which money is equitable with speech look like? It looks like billionaires being able to squelch out public opinion by flooding debates and elections in a never-ending escalation of rhetorical arms. It looks like a society where the right of the lowest and poorest to speak must be earned by hard labor, as are their meager wages. That’s the world Justice Roberts has set us on track to meet.
To get us there, he is also ignoring a history of corruption that led to the need for these campaign finance laws in the first place. Roberts seems to be persuaded that we live in a world where the corruption that is likely to occur involves massive transactions to single candidates in return for political favors and that the possibility of something more pervasive and sinister is improbable.
The problem, which Dahlia Lithwick hits on the head, is that the removal of aggregate limits may now make it where billionaires and corporations are capable of making every politician beholden to them, leaving no room for the common man to speak.