Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., March 31, April 1 or 2
A decision in “McCutcheon v. the Federal Election Commission” could be announced any day, and a ruling could remove the cap on total candidate contributions and more.
Argued last October, the case has Alabama Republican Shaun McCutcheon challenging the combined, two-year limit on direct donations to parties or candidates. Today, people can only give $123,000 to candidates, Political Action Committees, and political parties over a two-year period. However, federal law also limits individuals to giving $2,600 to any one candidate during a single election, and the court could strike that down, too, essentially killing all campaign finance limits.
“McCutcheon” follows the controversial conclusion in 2010’s “Citizens United” case that corporations can spend as much as they want on political campaigns as long as they don’t give money directly to candidates because corporations have the right to free speech. “Citizens United” granted corporations all the rights that human beings have under the U.S. Constitution, a slim, 5-4 majority of the Court ruled.
The late Illinois author David Foster Wallace in “The Pale King” wrote, “Corporations aren’t citizens or neighbors or parents. They can’t vote or serve in combat. They don’t learn the Pledge of Allegiance. They don’t have souls. They’re revenue machines. They’re not civic entities. With corporations, I have no problem with government enforcement of statutes and regulatory policy serving a conscience function.”
But: Is money the same as speech?
Journalist and TV writer David Simon has said that he’s troubled by money triumphing over democracy, but he disputes the solution.
“The chant from the Left became, ‘Corporations are people? Corporations are not people’,” he said. “Well, under the law, that’s the reason for corporations. They are, indeed, given the rights of individuals, and that’s why you form corporations and that’s how the law treats them.
“They’re sociopaths as people,” he added. “If all you care about is your profits and nothing else in human terms, you’re probably a sociopath. It was that speech is money that was [disturbing]. Money is in a fundamental regard the opposite of speech in many ways.”
Some perspective: The Koch brothers spent more money in the 2012 campaigns than the top 10 labor unions combined, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) – more than twice what unions spent. The Koch brothers’ publicly disclosed political contributions topped $4.9 million, but their “dark money” contributions – money paying for an election campaign not disclosed to voters beforehand, used on behalf of a candidate or to influence voting on a ballot question – was about $400 million. “Citizens United” let two rich brothers have more control over the U.S. political system than the millions of workers who unions represent.
In Illinois, Republican Bruce Rauner during the recent primary election mostly benefited from his own wealth, but CRP and the Sunlight Foundation recently reported that two Illinois sources of campaign largesse are Ron Gidwitz and the couple Muneer Satter and Kristen Hertel.
Gidwitz, a former Illinois State Board of Education chair and gubernatorial candidate, and his New Prosperity Foundation, generally donated to the GOP and Republican candidates, bundling between $100,000 and $250,000 for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign the groups reported. Hertel and Satter, a director of Goldman Sachs until 2012, also mostly gave to Republicans, but also contributed to Democrat Rahm Emanuel in his campaign for Mayor of Chicago. The couple contributed $500,000 to the Super PAC Restore Our Future in support of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid, Sunlight and the CRP said.
Communications Workers of America president Larry Cohen and others advocate a Constitutional amendment regulating corporate “speech” in politics. Others say that’s too limited, that it should deny corporations rights meant for citizens. Their argument, bottom line, is that corporations are not people.
Again, however, it may not be corporations’ lack of humanity that’s the best argument, but that money is not speech.
“That to me was the nails in the coffin,” Simon said. “If you can’t fix the elections so that they actually resemble the popular will – if the combination of the monetization of the elections and gerrymandering create a bicameral legislature that doesn’t in any way reflect the will of the American people – you’ve reached the end game for democracy.”
[PICTURED: Photo from thepoliticalbouillon.com]