The Roberts version of the SCOTUS slammed good-government types hard, first with Citizens United and now with McCutcheon v. FEC. Today theSunlight Foundation’s Lisa Rosenberg (government-affairs consultant) gave me some perspective…and hope.
Homework note: Get with the program. The 94-page McCutcheon decision is an easy, if infuriating, read. Chief Justice Roberts writes for a four-justice plurality and Justice Thomas adds a five-page concurrence reading basically that the decision didn’t go far enough in freeing money in politics. Then in a lengthy dissent, Justice Breyer writes for the other four with data, case law, and reasons why the decision is addlepated (not his word, but he used fatally flawed). At the least, read the dissent to arm yourself for coming discussions.
She spoke of how she and others in the reform community were not at all surprised by McCutcheon. She views Roberts as a very activist judge with a real agenda to scrap campaign-finance controls. “He has not shown any restraint” on the subject.
Not only did the recent decision overrule considerable case law, Roberts does not seem to understand how politics and campaign finance work, Rosenberg said. For one example, he believes that large political contributions are transmitted to the FEC almost immediately, instead of being handed to the Senate, which eventually produces paper reports that the FEC staff hand types into a database. Perhaps more important, as so clearly delineated in the dissenting opinion, Roberts does not see how wealthy donors, candidates and parties can get around the few existing limits on contributions.
Rosenberg attributes Roberts’ attitudes more to naivete than malice. Moreover, his decision narrowing corruption to quid pro quo instead of buying access and influence will likely lead to increased outrage by the public. She noted that when there is so much money in politics, scandals that fit under Roberts’ naive definition are bound to follow. That likely would catalyze reform.
Listen in as she describes the problems and setbacks. She also sees a future toward a less corrupt system. A first step will be toward transparency in the donation process. She cited the real-time transparency bill that the Sunlight Foundation worked with U.S. Sen. Angus King (ME) to introduce. In the House, Beto O’Rourke of Texas sponsored it as well. This would report huge contributions in hours instead of weeks or months.
That’s not a total solution, rather a step toward correction. She urges people to call and write their Congress folk to support it and pass it as soon as possible.
Following McCutchen, she said responses to billionaires buying influence in elections include voters:
- Voters can call their Representatives and Senators
- Groups can gather up many smaller contributions to offset the mega-donations
- Media can report on contributions
Rosenberg fears that some voters will view the combination of Citizens and McCutcheon with cynicism, as though there is no reason to vote or give that $25 to their candidate or cause. However, she also thinks that Republicans may be surprised at the broader effects. They seem to assume that most of the huge donations will flow to them. She sees leftwingers mobilizing their own wealthy to offset this. While the ideal solution would be to get corrupting cash out of electoral politics, balancing sides while legislation catches up should help.
Listen in as she describes the dire situation, the likelihood of the SCOTUS continuing in this line, and what we can do about it. We start with pushing transparency — “the last remaining tool for the rest of us.”
This appears also at Left Ahead.