The Supreme Court took another swing at American democracy last week by further opening the floodgates for the super-rich to pour money into our elections and drown out the voices of average Americans. In siding with Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee, Chief Justice Roberts and his conservative accomplices struck down the maximum aggregate limits on contributions to political candidates and committees in an election cycle. This past federal election cycle, contributors had to limit their combined giving to $117,000 between all political candidates and committees. That cap is no more.
This isn’t a ruling for average Americans. Only 2,316 people reached their maximum federal limit in 2012. That’s roughly .0007 percent of the 317 million people in the US. In the post-Citizens United electoral landscape, we must enact limits on the influence of money in our political process, not concentrate power further in the hands of less than one percent of the population. But by doing away with aggregate limits, the Supreme Court has cleared the way for ultra-rich individuals to fund slates of candidates across the country that will serve their narrow self-interests.
This is coming at a time when special interest money in politics is already at record levels. Outside spending by America’s wealthy elite has exploded in recent years, growing from $193 million in 2004 and $338 million in 2008, to over $1 billion in 2012. Total spending on all federal races doubled to $6.2 billion in 2012. I can only imagine what these records will look like in next cycle now that the richest Americans are subject to even fewer constraints on their largesse.
While deliberately concentrating power in the hands of the richest Americans, the Court has done its best to get rid of the last remnants of political power the average American has – their vote. Last summer’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder dealt a debilitating blow to the Voting Rights Act, which is consistently reauthorized on a bipartisan basis in Congress. In doing away with the pre-clearance requirement, the Court effectively voided the VRA for the foreseeable future and paved the way for states to begin implementing onerous voting restrictions.
The bar for political participation in this country needs to be lower, not higher. Yet the Court keeps freezing out average Americans from our political process, while concentrating power in the hands of a few billionaires. I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to pass measures that mitigate the impact of this decision and restore the American public’s confidence in the democratic system.