McCutcheon Supreme Court Case Could Give Money More Say in Politics

September 13, 2013 | | The Institute for Southern Studies |

Why are social justice organizations up in arms about an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case involving political contribution limits? It might have something to do with America's widening income inequality, which in many ways is being financed by wealthy campaign donors. A ruling in favor of lifting limits on the amount individuals can contribute would allow the wealthiest of the wealthy to control parties in ways that would make the Great Gatsby proud.

McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission is seen by campaign finance reform watchdogs as a sequel to Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that held the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting political independent expenditures by corporations, associations, or labor unions. Independent expenditures are campaign communications that support or oppose candidates but are made independently of the candidate, committee, or party. In other words, the Supreme Court said that money talks and political races are not the venue to hush it -- even if spending by Fortune 500 companies might drown out the political expressions of people of color and those of limited means. [...]

The NAACP is helping lead the Democracy Initiative coalition, which joins civil rights organizations with labor and environmental groups in response to the post-2010 assault on voting rights, including restrictive photo ID and "proof of citizenship" voter registration laws. Democracy Initiative member organizations Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Communications Workers of America and the NAACP, along with about a half-dozen other organizations that collectively represent over 9.4 million members, have signed on to an amicus brief inMcCutcheon that opposes lifting contribution limits.

"The last thing our nation needs is another decision like Citizens United, opening up the floodgates to even more corrupting money from big polluters that will drown out the voices of the rest of us and wash away any remaining notion of accountability in our government," said Courtney Hight, director of the Sierra Club's Democracy Program.

The brief argues that un-damming campaign contributions would further damage public trust in government officials. Gallup polling shows that the American public currently has the lowest confidence in Congress in 40 years, while the public policy think tank Demos reports that 60 percent of Americans today say members of Congress are more likely to vote in a way that pleases their financial supporters. Another poll released last year by the Corporate Reform Coalition showed that 84 percent of Americans believe corporate political spending mutes the voices of the average American.

Read Stop the Next Citizens United

Read the full Demos Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court in McCutcheon v. FEC