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May 2014

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Supreme Court v. Democracy

By now no one should be surprised when this Supreme Court sides with the haves against the have-nots, but the 5-4 decision in McCutcheon et al. v. FEC has the court carrying water for the thinnest slice of the wealthy who still believe they don't have enough say in America.

Four years ago, Citizens United unleashed America's wealthiest to spend as they please on independent campaigns. Now the court has thrown out the $123,000 federal limit on total campaign contributions to parties and candidates. While the court did not overturn limits on contributions to individual candidates (currently $5,200 per election cycle) that's like cutting out the speed bumps from the middle of the road and leaving them in place near the curb. Who do you think is going to slow down?

Only about 600 people came close to the contribution limits. With this decision, the court freed that handful of billionaires and millionaires to dole out nearly $2.5 million every two years to the 435 congressmen and 33 senators running for office and another $1 million to each party's numerous state and national campaign committees. In presidential elections they can give even more.

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, "There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders." But the gap between the values of the average American and the values of the court's majority was best captured by Justice Scalia when during oral arguments he said, "I don't think $3.5 million is a heck of a lot of money."

This court seems to think giving money to a candidate is more important to our democracy than voting for one. The smallest inconvenience to a campaign check is swatted away, but right-wing legislators who put stumbling blocks in front of voters — ending early voting, enacting regressive voter-ID requirements and haphazardly purging voter rolls — do it with the high court's blessing.

Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, 'We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.'

If the Supreme Court lets one man give $3.5 million, we need to turn out 350,000 who give $100. Unless the Supreme Court changes it to one dollar, one vote, we still outnumber them, and the future of our democracy is still in our hands.


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Salvatore J. Chilia

Salvatore J. Chilia
International Secretary-Treasurer