To the surprise of many people who just emerged from an underground bunker and haven't read the news since 1960, the Supreme Court struck down on Wednesday limits on federal campaign contributions. In other words, it struck down a law that will affect primarily House races; 2012 showed that all bets are already off in the presidential race and this ruling is unlikely to make that situation any more ridiculous. "Slouching toward plutocracy"? You must have fallen asleep in the passenger seat, friend. We reached plutocracy four years ago.

The following is a sentiment I have used this forum to express previously but it bears repeating: there already exists no meaningful limit to the amount of money an interested party can pour into federal elections. There are no billionaire donors who were foiled in 2012, for example, by any existing laws. All of the money is already getting in, and in the special case of the presidential race it has reached the point of diminishing returns. There is only so much spending a campaign can do and the marginal benefit of running a commercial 8000 times in the Dayton media market instead of 7000 times is vanishingly small. In that spirit, the recent decision may be a useful reminder that the Supreme Court is firmly under right-wing control until someone does us the favor of dying. What it does not do is make a meaningful difference in the amount of money that will be spent in congressional races. They're already obscenely expensive and everyone who wants to pour in more money already has plenty of available options for doing so.

When it comes to campaign financing, the presidential and congressional races are a distraction from the real problem – money being poured into state and local races in which huge infusions of outside cash can and do alter outcomes. Throwing an additional million dollars into a Senate race is the equivalent of pissing into Lake Michigan. However, pouring $100,000 into ten state legislative or judicial elections – elections in which the amount of money spent is comparatively low – can be decisive. Increasing Hillary Clinton's war chest by 0.1% makes no difference; tripling the war chest of some yahoo Sunday School teacher from Bargle County running for the State House on an anti-Sharia plank does.

No right we have is completely without limits, and that includes the 1st Amendment under which campaign spending (as "political speech") falls. What this Court will consider an acceptable limit on this right appears to be so small and mysterious as to be inconsequential in practice or theory. Under these circumstances, the presidential and congressional campaign finance situation is beyond saving. Just forget about it. The amount of money being spent has doubled every four years for the last several decades and will continue to do so. The problem is that the money is starting to pour into low-attention races at an alarming rate. Worse yet, the Court's position hampers any state-level efforts to pass meaningful regulations.

This is bad and it is going to get worse.

34 thoughts on “NO LIMIT SOLDIERS”

  • I am a campaign finance lawyer and have many friends in the political arena. The general consensus is that practically this won't matter too much for the reasons you suggest. Billionaires can already swoop into smaller state and local races with IE PACs or 527s.

    One possibility I haven't heard discussed, however. If the masters of the universe can now, under McCutcheon, blow their wad on hard money (i.e. direct contributions to candidates), I wonder if this will mean that less money is steered towards the independent IE PACs, the Heritage Foundations of the world, etc. May shift some of the dynamics between institutional party power and outside, grassroots types. ?

    There is so much that's intellectually honest and despicable about this decision, though. The blind-eye toward the loopholes that would permit one donor to funnel 3.5 million dollars to an individual candidate. And then how can they say with a straight face that this raises no specter of quid pro quo corruption? I almost – almost – respect Thomas's opinion more since at least he's completely forthright in his deranged views (his opinion sides with McCutcheon but on the even more extreme grounds that there should be no contribution limits at all).

  • Passing legislation is cheap. States should just pass legislation limiting spending anyway. They're not required to self-prior restrain their legislation. Sure the court will strike it down, then they can pass it again at the next election.

  • On the other hand, an argument could be made for millionaire funding for without it we'd be totally in the hands of people who think that their gas will be paid for out of Obama's stash and that cell-phones are in his gift.

  • middle seaman says:

    Let's just mention that we will soon start to lose the minimal safety net we have, i.e. SS, Medicare. The donors need every penny they can lay their hands on.

    In simple terms, they need the people only as long as we still have a penny. Our days are numbered.

  • Hey, guys, spare some pity for the poor billionaires. I heard on NPR this morning that some of the more tight-fisted wealthy are unhappy because they've lost the polite social dodge of "I've already given all I'm legally allowed to." The poor things won't be able to lie to candidates or parties about how they'd love to give them more but the law won't let them. It's now harder to say no.

    Somewhere, the world's smallest violin is playing a sad song just for them.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    And this, THIS, is why we need to return to a top tax rate of around 90%!!!!!

    Like poor people for food and rent money, let the ultra-rich people have to overturn their couch cushions, and feel around in their luxury car seats, for spare change, to pay their CPA's and Tax Attorneys.

    The CPA's to find loopholes, and the Tax Attorney's to defend them.

    And we're not "Slouching for Plutocracy" – we're sprinting!
    And the finish line is coming up, soon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Meanwhile, efforts in vote suppression are accelerating. The voter purge in Florida was found to be illegal, but that hopeful sign won't last long.

    I commented on a previous post, that the idea that poor people should not have a say in their own governance because rich people fear having their money taken away, is a very old thought going back to Aristotle. So, yeah. Kiss your democracy goodbye.

  • This is why I disagree when people claim that government is best handled at the state or local level.

    To buy the federal government at least takes a huge defense contractor or somebody like the Kochs.

    State and local governments can be bought on the cheap. Any reasonably wealthy real estate developer can usually have their way at the local level.

  • I agree with everything you've said, but I'm still skeptical of movements for constitutional amendment like Move to Amend. Fundamentally our 1st amendment grants the right to assemble, and for our entire history the Supreme Court has aggressively interpreted that to mean that associations have rights. I disagree that it should mean that associations are actually fully equal to people, but still the idea of unilaterally revoking the right to free speech of organizations of people is perched at the top of a very dangerous slippery slope. I realize that wasn't what this decision was about, but it's a key component of a lot of the ideas that have been put forward to reform political financing.

  • The last time a Senate (national level) was bought on the cheap may have been Hagel in NE. Came back from Virginia, spent a couple of million, beat out Governor and future Senator Ben Nelson. All for a little over two million if I recall the figure correctly.

    Can't do it that cheaply again even in a small population state with few media markets.

    As a side note I thought he was a pretty good Senator. Especially by Nebraska standards.

  • At least direct candidate contributions require disclosure. Better than the massive quantities of undisclosed dollars being poured into the electoral process already…

  • @Jack: How long do you think those disclosure requirements will last, when the people who have the most reason to want to get rid of them are able to buy the politicians who will be writing future laws?

  • Has anyone here ever had a big box store buy off a county commissioner/zoning board seat just to rig the rules in their favor? Because trust me you're about to. This is the kind of stuff that will be the big difference. It's easy to buy local elections, and more are about to be bought. Just know that having a politician on retainer isn't corruption according to Justice (ha!) Roberts, only putting 'vote yes on issue #3' on the memo line of the check counts.

  • Thomas Piketty asserts in Capital in the Twenty-First Century that the only think demonstrably more effective than war in reducing rich oligarchs to rubble is taxation. Inheritance tax. Capital gains tax.

    So, naturally, the oligarchy tries to prevent all that nasty taxation.

    The Koch rising to Harry Reid's baited hook is the latest evidence that they also imagine wealth should inspire respect – that the rest of us should view them as noble human beings. A recent study of lottery winners apparently showed that mere possession of wealth causes us to imagine we're superior specimens, even when the wealth was due to the purest of luck and random chance. So our oligarchs no doubt genuinely feel they're the best people, and the rest of us should bow before them rather than rudely dragging up Balzac's observation about great fortunes arising from great crimes.

    In the face of the inevitable horrors that climate change is going to produce – drought, famine, desperation, infrastructure ruin – the oligarchs might do well to remember

    1) that they are in peril just as much as the rest of us, and that the historical alternative to taxation is war to the death and pillage to ruin.

    2) Adam Smith's observation that innovation and improvement come from "the middling classes," not the aristocracy hog-tied by their rituals of spending and social display.

    A taste

  • "thing" not "think" [bangs head on desk over once again neglecting to re-read before sending]

    Oh, and FUCK the lack of an edit feature.

  • The last time I proposed adding an Edit everyone said no.

    And yes, state/local races are so cheap it's almost embarrassingly easy to buy them. Ask any half-successful car dealership which county board members are theirs.

  • They already owned the politicians, this just puts a stronger chain on them. Next step, stop pretending it isn't bribery.

  • We're just doomed. Fucking doomed. As Middle Seaman says, watch all of our safety nets get ripped out from under us.

    I just hope I die early.

  • Re Carter's comment that reducing First Amendment rights for associations is a slippery slope.

    That triggers a pet peeve of mine. Any limit to one right can be extrapolated into its elimination. As Ed points out, no rights are actually without limits. As I keep trying to point out, it's not the limits that are the problem. It's incorrectly placed limits. It's allowing one right so much space — generally because of slippery slope fears — that it encroaches on other, equally important rights. All rights need to be viewed in balance. (I know. That's not as simple.)

    For instance, this latest Supremes' decision. A tyranny of free speech destroys democracy. And the worst thing is that's not even an exaggeration.

    Worrying about slippery slopes is itself a slippery slope.

  • IIRC, France's Second Republic had a property test for full citizenship / voting rights. Allegedly, when agitators demanded the right to vote, a statesman replied, "Get rich!". When I read of this so many years ago, I did not expect to see it happen here, in the Land of the Fee and the Home of the Paid.

  • Campaign contributions, or at least the excessive ones, whatever that might be, are as much a symptom of a problem as a problem in itself. The reason money in elections make a difference is because there is a low voter turnout and broad ignorance on issues and candidates, especially at the local level. Fix that, and all the laws regulating – or not – campaign contributions will be a moot point.

    Talk about asking the impossible.

  • @Carrstone- just say black people. It will make you feel better. And before say "I didn't bring up black people, you did! You are the racist one!" Stop with the idiotic "I know you are but what am I" argument- it's insulting to real debate.

    @ Dave Dell- my cousin interned in DC for Hagel. Seemed like a pretty reasonable guy, for a republican. The 3rd district in NE can get anyone with a pulse elected to congress as long as they are a republican, and if you're a running a statewide race and you're a republican, you're already starting on 3rd base. Ben Nelson would be a republican in most other states.

    As for the mockery of "Free Speech" that this court has heaped upon us- I think it was in Colorado that some big money flowed in for the recalls of some of the people who voted for gun laws…. so we have that to look forward to.

  • Bitter Scribe nailed it.

    Carter's argument is pretty much bull shit.

    Money is not fucking speech. Money has not one god damned thing to do with speech, and every god damned thing to do with graft, bribery and corruption. That is the fundamental flaw.

    Conservatives, at their core, do not like democracy. They are very comfortable with dictatorship and oligarchy. Yet they bleat about freedom.



  • Does anyone know exactly what these billionaires will be spending their cash on? If it's for more television spots, I think the saturation point would be reached fairly soon as our host has already pointed out. Does anybody under the age of 40 even look at televion let alone televised political ads? I'd be more concerned if people like the Kochs and Sheldon Adelson were spending money on GOP GOTV, but they don't seem to believe in encouraging more voter participation of any sort.

  • I'm not all that concerned about Sle Adelson investing in GOTV. The Vs the GOP needs to GO require buses with lifts to transport to the senior center or church, and even in my worst-of-the-top-50 metro area's limited public transit options, the only kind we actually provide is the set-aside for seniors…and they're retired so they got nothin' but time.

    Ed's point, that contributions will devolve to the level of government at which the governmentin' gets done, is the correct ball to keep an eye on. (If the Obama presidency hasn't proven right those of us who contend that Ike was right & the MI complex has taken on its own life not subject to executive or legislative oversight…you're not paying attention. )

  • Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    @Tim H. : They already owned the politicians, this just puts a stronger chain on them. Next step, stop pretending it isn't bribery.

    The next step is advertising specific fee-for-service rates.

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