Democracy was blindsided four years ago in Citizens United when the Supreme Court gave an answer to a question it was never asked. What began as regional TV ads for an on-demand movie somehow let the Supreme Court undo a century of campaign law, insisting that no amount of money could corrupt a politician. The results have been disastrous—our electoral process has become an open market place for politicians to be bought by billionaires’ Super PACs.
Today, the Supreme Court issued a new ruling on election spending that will sabotage our democratic process further: McCutcheon vs. Federal Elections Commission. That the Supreme Court even decided to hear the case over whether aggregate campaign contributions should be limited to “only” $123,600 indicates that the Roberts Court seeks to continue to exacerbate the problem of money in politics. This short video filmed at the steps of the Supreme Court shows what is at stake in this decision.
We’re not going to take this lying down. That’s why thousands of us have organized for a national same-day response to the McCutcheon ruling. The news of the ruling may be bad, but the news of the day can be a powerful statement that Americans are taking a stand against Big Money taking over our political process. Right now over 200 events are going down around the country for this same day response to McCutcheon, with more being added everyday. This will be the biggest dame-day response to a Supreme Court decision ever. The response has been percolating, evidenced by the unprecedented recent video recording of an activist from 99 Rise proclaiming to the court that money is not speech and corporations are not people.
I’ve been documenting the toll that money in politics takes since 2006, and in that time, I’ve seen more and more citizens recognize how virtually all of our problems stem from this inequality, and step up to make this the fight that matters the most to them. And if you look around, you’ll see that Americans are doing what they are best at, taking a stand in the name of justice.
From the momentous clean money campaign reform just debated in New York State, to California’s disclosure law, to the 16 states that have passed resolutions calling for a Constitutional Amendment, citizens are finding ways to counter the negative impact of money on our self-governance. I have hope because more and more people are standing up.
History repeats itself (or, if you will, time is a flat circle). Over a century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt said, “All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law.” This led to the Tillman Act of 1906, specifically intended to free politicians from relying on the petulance of corporate benevolence, and likewise allowing businesses to no longer have to pay a form of extortion to greedy statesmen. This concept survived a hundred years with updated legislation, as recently as this century from the McCain Feingold Act.
But it was at the behest of Chief Justice John Roberts—who during his confirmation hearings likened his role as Chief Justice with an umpire calling balls and strikes—that the home video company Citizens United expand their argument before the court from one about pay-per-view ads in New Hampshire to a much broader case about the regulation of all corporate money in elections. This overreach by one judge with a lifetime appointment was like a lance through generations of hard-fought reform by rivaling elected leaders that worked together for the mutual survival of their dreams for democracy.
The Citizens United ruling unleashed corporate money, and now the McCutcheon case may allow an individual to give $3.5 million to candidates and campaign committees. Do you think your Congressman will listen to you, or the guy who gives millions?
We have fought this fight before and won. As recently as Watergate there was a generation of reformers who helped establish the campaign finance laws that ended the “suitcases of cash” from the Nixon era. And We, The People, can override the agenda of an aggressive jurist. That is accomplished with an amendment to the Constitution, the 28th, which states that money is not speech and corporations are not people. And that starts by taking to the streets when the McCutcheon verdict is read.
Take a stand with us, find a McCutcheon Decision Day protest near you, or start one of your own. Even if its just you standing on a corner with a sign on the day the media will be filled with news of the next Citizens United, you’ll be one of thousands across the country, sending a powerful signal that people matter more than money in our democracy.
John Wellington Ennis is a filmmaker, activist, and father. His documentary on getting money out of politics PAY 2 PLAY will be released in August.