High Court Campaign Dollard Ruling Dismays Unionists Democracy Activists

By Mark Gruenberg

PAI Staff Writer


WASHINGTON (PAI)–The Supreme Court’s latest ruling striking down yet another campaign finance limit – this one on how much, in total, a big giver can funnel to political party committees and candidates – dismayed unionists and democracy activists.  Their first counter-measure was rallies in 140 cities in 38 states, followed by planning about what to do next.

By a 5-4 vote on April 2, the GOP-named majority of the court, in McCutcheon vs. Federal  Elections Commission, said an individual big giver could donate an unlimited amount of money, in total, to the party candidates and committees.  A limit of $2,600 per candidate and $10,400 per party committee remains.  But there’s no limit on the total of those donations.  It was $123,200 before the court’s ruling.

In practical terms, the court let big givers donate million-dollar checks to party committees or political candidates.  Estimates of the overall maximum a big giver could funnel to pols ranged from $3.5 million to $6 million.

“The court made one of the most undemocratic and corrosive decisions in history with the Citizens United ruling”  four years ago, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.  “Today, it dangerously broadened its skewed view of money in politics.”

“By striking down individual aggregate limits…the court further tilted our political system in favor of corporations and the wealthy and against working people.  Our founding fathers did not intend for our electoral process to be the facade for political auctions,” he continued.

“We need fundamental reform to get our democracy back on track,” Trumka declared.  “The average, ordinary American should have as strong a voice as the Koch Brothers do in politics.”

Four of the five justices in the majority said the aggregate contribution limit violates the U.S. Constitution’s 1st Amendment right to free speech.  The fifth, Clarence Thomas, agreed and repeated his view that all campaign contribution and spending limits are unconstitutional.  A GOP big giver from Alabama brought the case and the Republican Party joined his cause.

Communications Workers On-Line Activism Director Beth Allen publicized the rallies and urged unionists to attend them as the first counter-measure against the court’s ruling.  She called the majority’s decision “unbelievable.”

Newspaper Guild President Bernie Lunzer, who joined one of the 140 protests – outside the High Court itself two hours after the decision – said the important point is that “we are a coalition of groups,” including unions, the NAACP, environmental groups, Common Cause and citizens groups “that are concerned about this issue.

“It’s a battle between dollars and democracy,” he added.  CWAers at the D.C. protest carried placards that read “Money Out. People In.”

“I hope we’ll keep the momentum going,” Lunzer said.

“Our democracy is eroding before us.  This Supreme Court has made it easier to buy and election and much more difficult for ordinary Americans to vote in one,” Allen added, referring to a prior 5-4 High Court ruling that guts the Voting Rights Act and another, several years ago, that gave states free rein to pass so-called “voter ID” laws.

“The Supreme Court continues to confuse money and speech, causing real harm to our democratic election process.  The super-rich will join corporations in using their millions to pressure elected officials for special access, policy agendas and tax breaks… The result likely will be even more ‘pay-to-play politics’ and political inequality,” CWA said in a statement.

AFT President Randi Weingarten said the justices “squashed again” the “voices of everyday Americans.”

“We once had rules that allowed everyone a fair shot at the American dream and access to democracy, but now access to government is reserved for the most powerful and influential with millions and millions of dollars to buy elections,” she continued.  “The avalanche of money spent on elections would be better spent creating jobs, improving our neighborhood public schools, fixing our disintegrating infrastructure and building a better future for our children.”

Speakers at the rally in D.C. and on a conference call of group leaders discussed next moves.  “The Supreme Court has established a system of plutocratic rights, so we need solutions that strip away that system,” said Robert Weissman of Public Citizen.

In particular, they mentioned a comprehensive presidential campaign finance reform bill by Reps. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and David Price, D-N.C., as a well as a constitutional amendment – which CWA President Larry Cohen is pushing – to let Congress again regulate campaign financing, overturning the court’s rulings.  But amending the constitution is slow and uncertain.  And the Van Hollen-Price bill would affect only presidential campaigns.  The McCutcheon decision affects all elections.

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