If you thought Citizens United and its offspring, the super PAC, reintroduced big money to the American political process, and that process is now immensely poorer because of it. Brace yourself. The U.S. Supreme Court, whose current manifestation has already demonstrated a willingness to give greater political influence to the very wealthy at the expense of the ordinary citizen, has agreed to consider whether to tilt the scales even further.
The Supreme Court will hear an appeal from an Alabama donor and the Republican National Committee (McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission) challenging the constitutionality of a federal law that limits an individual's contributions to $123,200 per election cycle. The court has already ruled, in Citizens United (2010), that corporations, unions and individual citizens can make unlimited contributions to campaign advertising as long as they are independent of specific candidates and parties -- a decision that led to the creation of super PACs. If McCutcheon prevails here in a sufficiently decisive way, donors would be free to sink unlimited sums into the war chests of any candidate or party, all but wiping out campaign finance laws.
When the Constitution was written, only white male property owners -- then about 15 percent of the nation's population -- had the right to vote. If McCutcheon is victorious and individuals are allowed to give as much money to whomever they wish at virtually any place in the election cycle, the nation will have edged even closer to a similar state of affairs, where those with vast stores of money can decisively influence campaign messages. The U.S. political process would become a fundraising contest even more than it is now, with all of the corresponding negative implications: Candidates who are unattractive to big-moneyed interests are eliminated early, leaving those who are most appealing to corporations and the billionaires who run them better equipped to succeed -- and rule. U.S. politics becomes a never-ending auction, with Wall Street and corporate America the only meaningful players.
Those of us who embrace the concept of "one person, one vote" were disappointed by Citizens United. What are we to make of this latest challenge to the concept of representative democracy? All we're left with is hope; hope that the court, in its interpretation of the laws, will give weight to the impact its ruling will have on the overwhelming majority of American voters.