Here is an interesting dichotomy:
Last month, many New Hampshire towns joined towns across the nation in voting to support the idea of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. That ruling by the Court essentially allows corporations, and unions, of course, to spend as much money as they want on political campaigns.
Clearly, many New Hampshire towns, including Milford and Amherst, think the Court’s decision was inimical to the interests of ordinary citizens. As do we.
Last week, the Court, in keeping with its right wing rich-folks-uber-alles mentality, voted 5-4 (thanks so much, Anthony Kennedy) that it is just fine for rich people to give as much money as they want to federal political campaigns and not just the $123,200 to which they were limited each election cycle (a cycle, in this case, being two years.)
There is an inherent message and it is in keeping, sort of, with the American ideal of making it (the it, in this case, being specifically money but the general “it” being that old American ideal of rising above the middle or the upper middle or … well, rising to a point where you can afford to give campaigns more than $123,200 every two years).
Anyway, back to that inherent message. It is this:
If you want to have any influence at all with your elected representatives, you’d better come not hat in hand but, instead, with flipping great wads of cash in hand and then, maybe, he or she will pretend to recall who you are without you wearing a name tag.
And, of course, the more flipping great wads of cash you come carrying, the more friendly your congressperson will be.
Of course, we mean “presumably” will be because we all know that cash doesn’t influence our congressional folks one little bit.
Oh, well, no, you’re still limited on much you can give to an individual, but you can give up to $3.6 million to a party, say, and it can then be, in the words of the New York Times, “funneled to specific campaigns through the use of joint fund-raising committies, effectively nullifying the per-candidate limit.”
Oh, but why quibble. Really, all the Supreme Court has done with its ruling is give us further reason to trust our politicians because now we all know that the very folks who most certainly couldn’t be influenced for $123,200 every two years will be even more uninfluencable for even more cash because it will give them something greater to transcend and transcend it they surely will.
Anyway, for you and for us, the bottom line is this:
If we want to have any influence with our politicians, it is up to us to get embarrassingly rich so that we can give them flipping … well, you know. And if we can’t get rich enough to do that, well, the fault is not in our stars, it’s in ourselves.
That’s right: We’re to blame. Shame on us.
Really, that’s all the Supreme Court was saying.
Now we are not suggesting that the Court, or Congress for that matter, must heed the wishes of the American people. The Court, and Congress, are in the business, supposedly, of making decisions based upon the premises of the law and often the point of view of the majority of the people flies in the face of law, and sometimes even of common sense. Witness segregation.
So just because so many New Hampshire towns, and towns across the nation, voted for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Court’s Citizens United decision doesn’t mean the Court need heed those votes when it rules, say, on something like contributions to political parties from very rich people. The justices must follow the dictates of the Constitution and five of them obviously believe the First Amendment means money talks, as in the more money you have the more free speech you can purchase.
We think the Court was wrong in Citizens United and in this latest case but that is neither here nor there. Once the Court has ruled, we as citizens have two recourses. The first, of course, is to accept the decision. That’s the American way. The second, as in the case of the Citizens United petitions passed in so many New Hampshire towns in March, is to seek redress through the Constitutional amendment process. That is a long, drawn-out procedure that must first go through Congress, then through each state. Change won’t come next week.
But change needs to come. The idea that the more money you have the more political influence you own has a certain sad logic to it, but that doesn’t make it right or even sensible. Rich people are not necessarily smart people, nor necessarily moral nor fair-minded. That they can buy influence, or influence elections, because the Court says money talks, just seems wrong.
No, it doesn’t seem wrong, it is wrong.
But the American way is to accept the decision until we can take legal and ethical steps to overturn it. Milford, Amherst and many other New Hampshire towns have sent a message about Citizens United and that message also carries over to this latest court decision.
The next step is to get Congress to act by taking the first steps toward a Constitutional amendment.
Let’s not waste time.