April 7, 2014

FORKEN | McCutcheon v. FEC Perpetuates Political Inequality

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Last week, the Supreme Court struck down a former law that capped the aggregate amount an individual donor can contribute to political candidates and committees in the case of McCutcheon v. FEC. Previously, individuals could donate up to $123,200 to political candidates and organizations, with a $48,600 limit on contributions to candidates in general, and a $2,600 cap on specific candidates. Now, with the recent ruling, individual donors face no limit regarding aggregate contributions, although the single candidate cap still remains intact. McCutcheon v. FEC serves to expand the influence of finances in politics and perpetuate the disparity in class representation in political participation under the guise of protecting the First Amendment.

While responding to the Court’s decision, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared, “I can understand why the political left doesn’t like rulings like Citizens United and McCutcheon, because they expand the playing field. … They enable more citizens to be involved and contribute to the causes and candidates they believe in.”

Nice try Senator, but this ruling simply expands the playing field for the wealthy; it does absolutely nothing to allow lower income individuals to influence politics in the way upper class donors can. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 646 individuals contributed the maximum amount to candidates in the last election cycle. Permitting individuals to contribute to an unlimited number of candidates doesn’t magically allow lower class individuals sufficient disposable income to donate to political campaigns. What it does do is provide these 646 wealthy donors with a means to further their reach wherever they please.

Imagine individuals like Sheldon Adelson or David and Charles Koch, who have given hundreds of millions to political candidates. With this ruling, these super donors could literally fund hundreds of campaigns across the country and influence politics in previously unforeseen ways.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito argued in favor of the decision by stating that striking down aggregate limits doesn’t result in corruption, as corruption only exists when money is given directly “from the person who wants to corrupt to the person who is being corrupted.”

For some reason, Justice Alito refuses to acknowledge that finances can corrupt politics in a multitude of ways other than direct bribery. While contributing to a political campaign isn’t a form of corruption in itself, not capping these contributions could be. First off, if super donors can contribute to an unlimited number of politicians, more politicians will spend time courting these donors instead of governing. More importantly, when politicians are receiving a plurality of their funds from a single source, chances are they aren’t going to propose or pass legislation that wouldn’t be approved by the source, as candidates fear the end of the money train.

Basically, McCutcheon v. FEC grants a handful of wealthy billionaires the opportunity to reach into their pockets and influence politics on a national scale. Most likely, these billionaires aren’t terribly concerned with redistributing income or reducing inequality, leading to legislation that favors the rich. If a candidate can receive sufficient funding from either a small group of wealthy donors or millions of lower income contributors, why spend the time appealing to a larger group of people?

The Supreme Court invoked the First Amendment in McCutcheon v. FEC, ruling that money equals speech and is therefore protected under the right to free speech. This is a ruling that threatens to undermine the basis of any democracy. If you are a lower-income individual with no disposable income to contribute to political campaigns, then do you not have a voice? If money equals speech, then don’t those with more money have a larger voice in politics?

Furthering the influence of finances in politics only results in the increasing influence of the wealthy while the lower class remains woefully underrepresented. Thanks to McCutcheon v. FEC, 646 individuals can rest happily tonight while the rest of us watch from the sidelines.