Some people working to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case clearly don’t understand the issue.
A few years after this 2010 decision, I interviewed a member of an Occupy group in the western suburbs of Chicago.
His solution was to amend the U.S. Constitution so that groups no longer had any rights.
This, he said, would allow the government to reduce the political influence of big money by regulating corporate entities more heavily.
I told him this would put a lot of people, such as racial and ethnic minorities, at risk of discrimination.
He responded that legislators could fix this problem by passing laws protecting specific groups.
The inherent flaw with this approach never dawned on him.
This would create an arbitrary process where some favored groups were granted legal protection while others were not.
A recent article in Newsweek further demonstrated what’s wrong with the movement to reverse the Citizens United case.
Jeffrey D. Clements penned an opinion column titled “Drain big money out of politics. Overturn Citizens United. Pass the 28th Amendment,” posted online July 30.
Clements serves as president of American Promise, a group formed to pass a constitutional amendment to restrict spending designed to influence elections.
He also wrote the 2011 book, “Corporations Are Not People: Why They Have More Rights Than You Do and What You Can Do About It.”
In his column, Clements lauds the introduction of the Democracy for All Amendment by congressional Democrats.
It has the support of U.S. Sens. Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer, both of New York.
Gillibrand is among the presidential candidates calling for the amendment’s implementation.
“If passed and ratified, the amendment will become the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This constitutional amendment will enable what the vast majority of Americans across the political spectrum urgently want, which are reasonable limits on money in state and federal elections to combat corruption, increase electoral competition and protect the right of every American to speak, be heard and have representation in our political system,” Clements wrote. “With record-breaking money flooding our political system, a collapse in confidence in both our government and democracy itself, political parties fragmented and challenged by outsiders, independents, and billionaire-driven freelance political operations, any calculation about the stability of current political alignments is hazardous at best. Today, the American electorate is alienated, angry and fearful, sensing that the people have lost control of the system. And they’re right.”
Clements believes big money is destroying the electoral system.
While the massive amount of revenue that floods politics is problematic, he’s wrong on a few points.
“Data shows that because money reigns, most Americans cannot participate meaningfully in determining candidates and election results,” he wrote. “Wealthy Americans and corporate interests hold wildly disproportionate influence, and they typically have different policy preferences than the average voter. Incumbents raise more money because they can reward donors and punish enemies, and they usually win, no matter how frustrated the voters may be.”
Let’s clarify the errors that Clements makes here.
The Citizens United v. FEC and a subsequent Supreme Court case, SpeechNow.org v. FEC, dealt with how groups could spend money on expressing their views.
They did not address direct contributions to political candidates, so Clements is misleading on this point.
And his statement that “most Americans cannot participate meaningfully in determining candidates and election results” is absurd.
Information on who is running for elective office and what stances they have taken is readily available — if people choose to look for it.
The biggest problem with the political process is not too much money but too few voters.
Many people eligible to cast ballots don’t do so simply because they’re lazy.
If they cared enough about participating in our remarkable experiment of self-government, they could collectively overwhelm those with deep pockets.
What’s killing democracy in our country is apathy, not big money.
Elected officials respond to those who put them in office and keep them in power.
If more Americans would bother to vote, imagine the changes we could make.
For people who want to “get money out of politics,” here’s a challenge:
Get elected to public office without spending a cent.
If they can accomplish this, I’ll take their arguments more seriously.
Otherwise, they should put more effort into dragging potential voters off their couches and push them toward polling places.
The best tools to combat political propaganda are a healthy sense of skepticism and a determination to use critical thinking skills to parse what’s true from what’s false.
Let’s find a way to significantly increase voter turnout before messing with the Constitution.
This will go a long way toward resolving the problem at hand while avoiding the unintended consequences that passing an amendment would incur.
Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.