On the EDge: Political eBay

OPINION – Land of the free?

Not any more.

The Supreme Court handed the keys to the henhouse to the foxes last week when it struck down a decades-old cap on the total amount any individual can contribute to candidates during a two-year election cycle, ruling that caps on the total amount of money an individual can give to political campaigns, PACs and parties are unconstitutional.

It was clearly a split along party lines with the five Republican-appointed justices uniting to overturn the law with the four Democratic appointees asserting their dissent.

As my friend Robin Schichtel said: “I cannot believe our government is for sale and our Supreme Court is the auctioneer.

Neither can I.

But, it is not unexpected.

Every election cycle we are not only given position papers and detailed surveys telling who is ahead and why, but the latest facts and figures on how much money the candidates have raised, making the money pit as newsworthy as a candidate’s voting record.

Money has, of course, played a large part in our electoral system for ages. Even in the days when candidates barnstormed the countryside, speaking from the back of railroad cars, dollars have translated into votes.

And, while the 1960 race between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, which Kennedy won by a slim margin after some suspicious votes were recorded in Chicago, is the first to come into mind, there have been others. Still, that race did result in the best, and most candid, election-fixing line.

During the campaign, Kennedy joked with reporters: “I just received the following wire from my generous Daddy; ‘Dear Jack, Don’t buy a single vote more than is necessary. I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for a landslide.’”

Now, of course, we get a lot of lip service from politicians about campaign reform, about how tighter restrictions need to be put in place, and all of those other good things we would hope to hear from one advancing the true precepts of democracy.

But, when it comes down to it, we don’t really see a lot of movement on the subject.

Why should we?

It’s those campaign dollars that separate the winners from the losers.

The problem, however, is that the candidates suddenly find themselves in the position of the “elitists,” who they tend to castigate. Despite their weak protests, they keep the doors closed to those who would seek election, virtually handcuffing the competition.

I clearly remember the 2006 election when two regional Democrats were fighting for their political lives.

Pete Ashdown, a bright young man with good ideas and certainly electable credentials, was challenging Republican Orrin Hatch for his Senate seat. Down the road and across two state lines, Jack Carter, the son of former President Jimmy Carter, was in a scrap against Republican incumbent John Ensign.

Ashdown and Carter went to Las Vegas to try to raise funds for their campaigns. It was one of those events where hopefuls mingle with rich, influential party leaders and donors for support.

They met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who told them that if they didn’t have $1 million of their own money to forget about asking for major help from the party.

Ashdown ended up spending only $250,000 on his campaign and was thoroughly thrashed, garnering just 31 percent of the vote as opposed to Hatch who was swept back into office with 62 percent. Carter fared a little better, earning 41 percent against Ensign’s 55.

Hatch and Ensign, veteran politicians, had much deeper pockets and even though the Senate majority was on the line, Reid and his fellow Democrats refused to ante up some dough to help a couple of guys whose pockets were relatively empty, at least by Hatch and Reid standards.

In writing the Supreme Court’s majority decision, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. stated that this was a First Amendment issue.

“There is no right in our democracy more basic,” he wrote, “than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.”

With the new decision, it is clear that those who donate the most get to participate the most.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, in a rare display of SCOTUS antagonism, came out swinging and called the majority opinion a disturbing development that raised the overall contribution ceiling to “the number infinity” and allows “a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign.”

What this means, of course, is that Big Oil, Big Pharma, the NRA, and other special interest groups will now be free to swing an even larger hammer as they try to stack the political deck in their favor.

As expected, reaction to the decision also cut along party lines.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the Court “has once again reminded Congress that Americans have a constitutional First Amendment right to speak and associate with political candidates and parties of their choice.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., see it for what it is.

“It advantages wealthy people over everybody else,” Schumer said.

So much for “Give us your tired and poor.”

And, although my background is not in law, I fail to understand how limiting campaign contributions is a violation of the First Amendment.

In all actuality, what really happens is that those of us who don’t fly on private jets or run massive corporations are the ones who are silenced because, well, a million bucks can buy a lot of face time with a political candidate while what we, the great unwashed, are able to scrape together might get us a hearty handshake from some flunky aide.

If you really want to know how much influence political donations can buy, go to the Open Secrets website and start punching in the names of your state and federal elected officials, compare their legislative votes against donors and, voila!, the image becomes even clearer as we see their legislative votes go to the highest bidder.

We have, in essence, become a democracy for only the rich who buy influence with the major political parties, insert their puppets, and give us no real choice in the voting booth.

Even when an incumbent has hung on far too long or is egregiously arrogant, unresponsive, or unyielding, they can stay on as long as there are enough dollars in the campaign chest to outspend, rather than out-think, their opponent.

The SCOTUS decision will do nothing but further alienate those who already feel disconnected from a political process that, by allowing itself to be bought and sold, is moving further and further from the ethics and integrity of a once-righteous system.

My vote is not for sale and I refuse to give it to anybody, from either party, under these conditions. Besides, it has been a long time since I found anyone on the local or state level I wanted to spend that vote on anyway.

No, I prefer a candidate I can believe in rather than one I can buy on political ebay.

No bad days!

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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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  • Bub April 8, 2014 at 9:31 am

    Well the right-wingers are too worried about Obama’s birth certificate, and whether or not he might be a Muslim to care about eroding democracy. I don’t think the high court was ever intended to be kingmakers, but that’s what they’ve become. They’ve overstepped their boundaries so many times, but who will hold the kingmakers to account? Anyways, this newest ‘ruling’ doesn’t really change things since the ‘citizens united’ ruling. It was a free-for-all after that. Best to keep the FOX NEWS on full volume I guess… don’t want to miss any “valuable information”…

  • seeker137 April 8, 2014 at 9:46 am

    Along with the power of big corporations and the super-wealthy to buy political influence also comes power to “buy” the press. For example, EBAY FOUNDER PIERRE OMIDYAR’S POWER OVER MAINSTREAM PRESS: From the Pando article about Pierre Omidyar’s funding aid in the Ukraine revolution: “But what is more immediately alarming is what makes Omidyar different. Unlike other billionaires, Omidyar has garnered nothing but uncritical, fawning press coverage, particularly from those he has hired. By acquiring a “dream team” of what remains of independent media — Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, Wheeler, my former partner Matt Taibbi — not to mention press “critics” like Jay Rosen — he buys both silence and fawning press.
    Both are incredibly useful: Silence, an absence of journalistic curiosity about Omidyar’s activities overseas and at home, has been purchased for the price of whatever his current all-star indie cast currently costs him. As an added bonus, that same investment buys silence from exponentially larger numbers of desperately underpaid independent journalists hoping to someday be on his payroll, and the underfunded media watchdogs that survive on Omidyar Network grants.
    And it also buys laughable fluff from the likes of Scahill who also boasted to the Daily Beast of his boss’ close involvement in the day to day running of First Look.”
    So the buying the press tactic explains the pro-eBay press over the past decade or so.

  • Daniel April 8, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Ed you make great points in this article, yet it’s interesting the points that you failed to mention, intentionally or unintentionally we may never know.

    Points like:
    When Count My Vote was getting a lot of attention you wrote articles in favor of doing away with the caucus system in Utah. One of the biggest reason people opposing Count My Vote claimed was that it would make elections just open to the highest bidder. You now seem a bit two faced. You didn’t seem to mind money buying elections when it meant doing away with the caucus system, but now it is an abomination to even consider it.
    Being completely honest, these elections have been won by the highest bidder for a long time now, even when there were “donation limits”, quotations because the limits were a complete farce. Sure you could only donate so much money directly to a campaign, but there were no limits on how much you could donate to PACs and SuperPACs, which weren’t supposed to affiliate with any campaign, but who here is really convinced that doesn’t happen?
    You article points out known Republican industries that donate in large sums to campaigns, and the uninformed reading this might actually think that this ruling favors heavily Republican’s in winning elections, at least that is what you seem to be implying. Interesting how to left out known Democrat industries that donate in large sums to campaigns as well, in fact they seem to be out donating as of late. Hollywood, Green Energy, Unions, all donate in large sums to Democrats for elections, why didn’t you mention that Ed?

    In the end shouldn’t we all be asking ourselves why companies and people not even living in the state of the senator or the district of the representative even allowed to donate and do so much to get them elected at all? That doesn’t seem like the people are being represented at all.

  • JAR April 8, 2014 at 11:22 am

    You make some sound points in showing Ed’s bias positions. But hey, as a American, that’s his right. Mr. Kociela is a gifted writer but with a agenta. At lease he hasn’t come right out and said ‘If you like your freedom, you can keep it’ Period!(as long as you donate the way I tell you to).
    My self, being a true indepentant, vote for who is the most qualified for the job and how honest they appear to be. To be up front with you, I’m only right 70% of the time.

  • Ed Kociela April 8, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    Daniel and Jar: Good, civil arguments from both. Much appreciated in these quarters, by the way. The fact is, the GOP has a stranglehold on the biggest donors — pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, the medical industry, communications industries, not to mention the Koch brothers. Yes, there are some deep pockets on the Blue side — Soros, unions, the green industry — but it is minimal by comparison. Green companies have very little money or we would have more green power. Hollywood? The money just doesn’t flow and, quite honestly, over the years, there has been money going to both sides from Hollywood, which, contrary to popular belief, is a lot more conservative than it is liberal. The point about the caucus system is an interesting one because I think it is something we can debate vigorously and probably not come to a good conclusion. From my perspective, I see the caucus system as less inclusive — maybe not in theory, but practice — and more open to the strength of “the few” handing down decisions for “the majority.” But, that is, I am sure, a debatable point that depends on perspective to be sure. As far as being truly independent, I like to think of myself in those terms as well. And, it is true that I have an agenda. It is for our leaders to act in the interest of everybody they represent, free of financial, cultural, religious, or any other ties that would exclude a segment of the population. I also would like some consistency from our elected leaders, and above all, honesty. You could put them all on a 3-foot leash and I still wouldn’t trust a one of them. I realize honesty, statesmanship, and fair representation are a thing of the past, however we can hold out a little hope, right? And, finally, as far as campaign donations are concerned, I would much rather see you spend that money on something important like medical research and services, feeding and clothing the poor, and living up to the contract that was made to many veterans who come back from service with deep mental and physical scars. There isn’t one politician out there whose campaign is worthy of my money.

  • Ken Nelson April 8, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    Unions and public employees own Democrats, and their money dwarfs all others. The author shows continued lack of interest in core constitutional gaurantees that should be obvious. He’s very inventive, I’m sure, when it comes to finding constitutional basis for baby killing, but clear as mud on the basics actually written clear as day.

    Unions own Dems, some other businesses own Repubs, and both are wholly owned subsidiaries of big finance. This ruling, besides being clearly for liberty, will change little.

  • Rick April 8, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    Question for Ed, Do you honestly think “Hollywood… is a lot more conservative than it is liberal” ? Really?…………………………….Really?
    How do you respond to this stat from the Washington Post…
    Obama spent $733 million compared to Romney’s $479 million in the 2012 election?
    For having a “stranglehold” on the big donors it just seems a little odd.

    • Ed Kociela April 9, 2014 at 10:42 am

      Rick…Yes, Hollywood is a lot more conservative than liberal and has been for some time. It’s big money and big money likes to hold onto its money. Remember, the studios, producers, and directors have more money than the stars. And, as far as Obama vs. Romney, Obama raised about $1.1 billion and Romney raised about $1 billion (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2012/12/07/both-romney-and-obama-ran-1-billion-campaigns/), outrageous sums no matter which side you fall on. Take into consideration all of the “outside” money beyond the candidates’ control and Romney actually outspent Obama slightly. Neither, by the way, got a cent out of me.

  • JAR April 8, 2014 at 11:41 pm

    Mr. Ed,
    I have to take my hat off to you on your ‘stated reasons’ for being a independent thinker and realizing there crap on both sides of our current two party political system. They both want their hands in our back pockets (where the wallet is).
    Solution? I’m a firm believer that a reliable lie detector devise, approved by the court of course , be placed on every candidate/ holder of elected office. If any falsehoods are detected? Snap! Boy, look at what 50,000 volts is doing to that lying SOB. His hair is turning red and is falling out. Grab his wallet as soon as it cools down a bit and send it to the Salvation Army.
    That lie detector thing came out just thinking about statements such as—-

    • Ed Kociela April 9, 2014 at 10:44 am

      Lie detectors and politicians? Now there’s a novel idea. I don’t think they care so much about what’s in our wallets, however. I think they are more concerned with the big money. Why chase pennies when you can score gold?

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