LETTER: Self-government does depend on the right to participate in political debate

(This post was published as a letter to the editor in the Boston Globe, click here.)

We agree “self-government depends on the right to participate in advocacy and debate” (McCutcheon decision reaffirms First Amendment, Boston Globe, April 6). That’s why we side with the dissenting opinion in McCutcheon v. FEC and with previous decisions that had upheld the $123,000 contribution limit struck down by the Court.

As Justice Breyer says in his dissent “where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard.” Far from freedom of speech protection, McCutcheon amplifies the voice of a handful of ultra-wealthy that can afford to give $3.6 million directly to candidates, and muffles that of the 99.99% of Americans who can’t afford to give at that level or even $5, $10 or $100.

The Framers wanted Congress to be dependent “on the people alone.” Sadly, Congress is more dependent on big money in elections—a dependence that is sure to increase now. Dollars don’t vote, but they do limit voters’ options and mold the policy agenda to the desires of big money.

And that’s why a constitutional amendment is necessary to curb the activist and politically naïve Court and to bring our democracy back in line with the founding principle of one person one vote.

(Also read this letter in the Globe opposing the McCutcheon ruling, Oligarchy defense disguised as one for free speech.)

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About Pam Wilmot

Executive Director of Common Cause Massachusetts

One Response to “LETTER: Self-government does depend on the right to participate in political debate”

  1. Deborah Fialka April 14, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    I’m an American human, and a voter. And I can understand the parental pride a corporate founder feels in his creation, and the very human desire to ensure that it endures and flourishes long beyond his life.
    It’s short step to believing that this corporation is a superior sort of citizen that deserves all the protections that a fond parent can buy. After all people and voters are part of the corporation as employees or consumers or stockholders. What’s the problem with a bigger ‘person’ having a bigger footprint to counterbalance a large government work force intent on expending tax revenues on and extending protections to the less productive?

    Just one thing! There is no hardwiring in a corporation that allows it to sacrifice profitability for the greater good, it’s greatest good is profitable survival at all costs.
    Sugar producers cannot decide that sugar contributes to a third of the chronic health problems and expenses in the country, and decide to stop seeking government subsidies to make it cheap enough to use in every processed food stuff.

    We have great difficulty doing this ourselves if our livelihoods are threatened. But at least we see the problem, and assent to governance and taxation as a way to soften or prevent the worst of our shortsightedness.

    Corporations have none. They are obliged to seek every advantage from any source, even the maligned government. By nature they are merciless infants, focused on survival.

    We love and care for infants. They are the future. But we know enough not to trust their judgement in matters that require self-control and restraint and sacrifice.

    Multiplying their influence by equating money to free speech, when they have equal access to a free internet, simply enhances a sense of entitlement that led to our own and the world’s Great Recession.

    The best argument against an oligarchy controlling elections and the size of government is that bright talented people can be incredibly stupid when money is at stake; and take all of us down with them.

    Keep the internet essentially free, free the candidates by complete transparency on donations, enacting laws to prefer public and individual private donations of candidates for local, and the ‘lower’ houses of state and federal government.

    Mandate up to the minute public disclosure of identities ofindividual and PAC contributors to state and US Senate candidates, so the general public can track in real time who is paying who for what. Senators are supposed to represent larger interest blocks

    Enact legislation to confine candidates to free media access during the last two weeks of campaigns will level the playing field, make them answer reporters’ questions about their claims. It will also cut the exorbitant campaign costs of professional media spinners, and provide more clarity to voters.

    Yes, We’re all human. Let’s enact some structure to help us make the best of it.