Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The Supreme Court just killed American democracy

Imagine we play the following game: we each take out our wallets and place a stake on the table.  Whoever places the larger bet wins, and gets the whole pot plus half of whatever remains in the loser's wallet.  No cards, no dice, just strategy.  Would you play?  Would you play against David and Charles Koch?

In the aftermath of the latest Supreme Court decision you will have no choice.  Actually, you haven't had a choice but to play this game for a very long time now, ever since the Court gutted soft-money campaign contribution limits in the Citizens United decision.  The game is politics, and since Citizens United, politicians have been for sale to the highest bidder.  (The corruption is shockingly brazen.  I write checks that are big enough to get myself invited to personal meetings with senators and congressmen on a fairly regular basis.  These invitations literally come with price lists attached.  It's like ordering off a (very expensive) restaurant menu.)

But Citizens United still left in place an overall limit on direct contributions somewhere north of $100,000.  That is a substantial amount of money to be sure, but not entirely out of reach of small (100-1000 people) groups who really felt passionately about some issue or other.  (Such groups are sometimes pejoratively known as "special interest groups".  Note to Mitt Romney: special interest groups are people, my friend.)  This meant that non-billionaires, if they worked together, still had a shot at winning the political poker game that Citizens United has forced us all to play.

The latest decision, McCutcheon vs. FEC, removes the house limit on the stakes in the political poker game.  This magnifies the political power of those at the very top of the economic ladder, and accelerates the transformation of the united states into a fully fledged plutocracy.

Here's the really scary thing about the political poker game: to win the game, the super-wealthy don't actually have to write these enormous checks.  All they have to do to have undue influence over a politician is to make a credible threat to write an enormous check to their opponent in the next election.  Before McCutcheon, the law limited the magnitude of that threat.  Now that limit is gone.

As a result of McCutcheon, democracy is now fully dead in the United States of America, even though the show will go on for quite a while.  There will be campaigns, and there will be elections, and there will be lip service given to the will of the people.  But American politicians will henceforth have no choice but to do the bidding of the super-rich.  That will be the only way to keep their jobs.

UPDATE: Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed a Constitutional amendment to fix this problem.  I urge you to contact your senators and representatives and urge them to support this amendment.


Don Geddis said...

It is worth pointing out, that even a huge money advantage does not guarantee election. Meg Whitman failed to become California governor, despite a tremendous financial lead over Jerry Brown, and Carly Fiona failed to become a Senator. Keep in mind too, that these are donations to the campaigns, not pure gifts to the personal pockets of the politicians. A politician explicitly selling their vote, remains illegal.

The cure for money in elections, is an educated voting public, that thinks about the real issues, rather than being easily swayed by misleading political advertisements.

Ron said...

> a huge money advantage does not guarantee election

That's true, but it misses the point.

Imagine a politician who gets phone calls from two constituents with regards to a measure the politician has to decide whether or not to support.

Constituent A says, "Oppose the measure, or I will vote for your opponent."

Constituent B says, "Support the measure, or I will write a $1,000,000 check to your opponent."

Which call do you think will have more influence?

Don Geddis said...

Of course the call with the money will have more influence, because one vote doesn't matter.

But I think you're underestimating that the content of the policy, and how the public at large thinks of that policy, matters more than the money does. One vote may not matter, but lots of votes do.

On the other hand, you may enjoy this recent Scenes From A Multiverse.

coby said...

I think you are exaggerating the importance of this decision. It is merely one more nail in US democracy's coffin, Citizen's United was a much bigger decision and real the death blow will come when the single donation limit is abolished in the next travesty of of perverted logic issued by the Robert's court.

I don't think the practical implications of this single decision will be that notable. I mean it's not like the Republican presidential hopefuls will go kiss Sheldon Addelson's ass any harder.