By Haddon Libby

While CNN provided wall-to-wall coverage on an aircraft that went missing a month ago and Fox and MSNBC presented their partisan news coverage, an important ruling came down from the Supreme Court that few in the media spent any time on.

The Supreme Court ruled that campaign contribution limits on the amount that a wealthy individual can give in elections limits the First Amendment right to free speech of that individual. This occurred on the heels of the Court’s 2010 ruling that corporations are people too who can donate unlimited funds when it comes to elections. Current Republican leadership hailed the ruling while Democratic leadership and some highly respected Republicans expressed concerns over the ruling.

Fred Thompson, former Senator and Presidential candidate said, “We have gone from basically a small donor system where the average person believed they had a stake, believed they had a voice, to one of extremely large amounts of money, where you are not a player unless you are in the $100,000 or $200,000 range.”


Highly respected Republican Senator Alan Simpson also voiced concern over the influence of large donors saying, “Too often, Members’ first thought is not what is right or wrong or what they believe, but how will it affect fundraising. Who, after all, can seriously contend that a $100,000 donation does not alter the way one thinks about—and quite possibly votes on—an issue? When you don’t pay the piper that finances your campaigns, you will never get any more money from that piper. Since money is the mother’s milk of politics, you never want to be in that situation.

The contribution limit challenge was brought before the Supreme Court by Shaun McCutcheon, the President of the Alabama GOP Council. McCutcheon earns his money by spearheading difficult projects for the coal mining industry with a leading role in the development of “liquified clean coal” as an alternative to diesel fuel. So you know, liquified clean coal is twice as dirty as diesel and uses massive amounts of water in its production.

McCutcheon’s argument was that he should be allowed to give the maximum amount possible to every candidate with no limits on total contributions. The conservative majority in a 5-4 ruling agreed with him. While the law as it had previously existed was constructed to avoid ‘even the appearance’ of a corrupted electoral process, the majority felt that corruption should be defined as arrangements such as a payment for your vote on legislation. The minority argued unsuccessfully that money clearly buys access to politicians and frequently their support on issues of importance to the contributor whether that concern is in the best interest of the entirety of a politician’s constituents. The minority made their case based on things that have occurred over the last decade where small groups of like-minded people have funneled inordinate amounts into specific elections in attempts to corrupt the electoral process.
Given that McCutcheon is part of the political machine of Jefferson County, Alabama, the concern that corruption might occur from large donations can be proven in his very own backyard. You see, a sewer project in Jefferson County cost over $3 billion and was one of the most expensive municipal projects in history. The County eventually declared bankruptcy with county commissioners found guilty of corruption, bribery and extortion. Judges during those trials found that Jefferson County had become a kleptocracy – a place where elected office is held to increase that person’s power and wealth.

With this Supreme Court ruling, the most valuable contributors to federal elections can increase what they can give from $123,000 to $3.6 million each per election cycle.
The dissenting Supreme Court justices expressed their concern over the decision by writing, “a cynical public can lose interest in political participation altogether.”

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