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Editorial: A blow to the little guy

The conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court continued this month on its quest to dismantle the campaign finance reforms that were designed to help maintain some measure of an independent, democratic process in American elections.

This time, the court struck down an overall limit on how much donors may give candidates, party committees and political action committees combined.

The ruling stops short of casting aside all limits on campaign donations. Instead, it set aside the $123,200 cap on individuals’ overall contributes — $48,600 to all candidates combined and $74,600 to all party committees and political action committees.

Individual candidate limits remain at $2,600, so it will still be difficult to swamp any one candidate with enough contributions to run roughshod over his opponent.

What the ruling means is that the 646 people out of millions of donors in the 2011-12 election cycle ran up against that cap will be free to spread their money around to more and more candidates in the hope of influencing a broader field of races.

To influence all 536 federal elected office races, 435 congressmen, 100 senators and a president, is slightly less than $1.4 million.

Someone with more wealth to throw around could spread it across every state in the nation with the hope of having broad influence on the outcome.

Of course, this latest ruling comes atop perhaps the biggest distortion of constitutional law in history, the 2010 Citizens United case that lifted restrictions on independent spending by corporations and labor unions.

It’s hard to imagine the founding fathers framed the U.S. Constitution with the idea that corporations were people and money was speech. Corporations may be entities, but by no stretch should they be considered people. Their very core of deniability and accountability avoidance is the antithesis of what the founders had in mind. And money may be power, but the First Amendment’s free association clause never included “and spread their money around any which way they can.”

The Supreme Court is willfully undermining the democratic process in the United States.

The next logical step for this deluded court is to do away with contribution limits all together and that would be a large nail in the coffin of democracy.

“The First Amendment doesn’t protect any right to yell ‘Fire!’ in a theater, nore should it protect wanton distortion of the political process,” wrote the Dallas Morning News.

Most voters might see this as a sign that plutocracy — rule of the rich — is alive and well in the United States and use it as an excuse to stay home from the ballot box. But that’s no answer.

We voters should view this as a call to action. It is a clear invitation to voters to become more conscientious about their rights and responsibilities in the democratic process.

We need to pay attention to who owns our elected officials. As former Wyoming Sen. Alan K. Simpson has said, the expectation of large political contributors is “access.”

If we want to restore the leadership of our elected officials, we need to demand accountability for contributors by reviewing the publicly available campaign finance reports. Then we need to factor that information into the equation when we fill out our ballots.

As voters, we need to know what bedfellows our politicians are sleeping with.


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