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Long Islanders rally: Supreme Court McCutcheon ruling is blow to fair elections

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The reaction to the Supreme Court decision giving outsized political power to the wealthy was swift - some 140 demonstrations were held around the country, organized by Public Citizen, including a group of Nassau County citizens, who rallied in front of the Legislature in Mineola, Long Island.

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Waving signs and banging a drum, they were surprisingly optimistic in showing the power of the people.

"We've got to protect our Democracy," said Nancy Dwyer of Valley Stream, who was banging the drum. "They're taking it away. We can't allow this to go on."

"I'm tired of being a sleeping sheep, so I came out with my sign" said Lise Svenson of Westbury. "I'm happy someone is banging a drum."

"We hope this means we can do something about this - pass a Constitutional amendment," said Mary Anne Peterson of Mineola.

I confess to being a lot more skeptical. The Right Wing Majority on the Supreme Court, after all, has already struck down every campaign finance and fair elections law that has come before it. It has ruled that corporations are people (Citizens United), and cash is speech; it has struck down key provision of the Voting Rights Act and defended gerrymandering as absolutely fair game if it enables one party (Republicans) to have an advantage over another (Democrats). And let's not forget that Scalia, in that infamous Bush v Gore case which installed Bush in the White House, has said that the Constitution does not provide any express right to vote.

"Does that mean I should just take my sign and go home?" she tells me. "We need more people to get angry. People need to get interested in more than what the Kardashians are wearing."

The five Right Wing Justices - Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Alito and Thomas- ruled in the McCutcheon v FEC decision to overturn campaign finance law enacted after Watergate Their majority opinion means that one individual can write a check for $5.9 million to federal candidates, political parties and political committees.

The various groups participating in the demonstrations - Public Citizen, MoveOn.org, CWA, Sierra Club, Common Cause, Food & Water Watch, Demos, Free Speech for People, People for the American Way - continue to work toward an amendment to the Constitution that establishes that money does not equal free speech and is not protected by the First Amendment, and secondly, that corporations are not people and do not have the same rights to people.

"No matter what five Supreme Court justices say, the First Amendment was never intended to provide a giant megaphone for the wealthiest to use to shout down the rest of us," said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a progressive watchdog group that supports campaign finance reforms. "Our only hope of overturning this McCutcheon travesty - along with Citizens United - is if millions of Americans band together in saying 'Enough!' to plutocracy."

"We will fight to overturn Citizens United and now McCutcheon v FEC," Lisa Oldendorp, the MoveOn.org organizer, stated.

"Today's decision favors a plutocracy, not a democracy. Americans want our voices and our votes to count. Everyone's voice should be sacred, no matter how rich or how poor you are - and our votes should carry equal weight."

You can almost hear violins playing, in the preamble to Chief Justice Roberts' opinion, as he defends the rights of the oppressed billionaires:

"There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders. Citi­zens can exercise that right in a variety of ways: They can run for office themselves, vote, urge others to vote for a particular candidate, volunteer to work on a campaign, and contribute to a candidate’s campaign. This case is about the last of those options.

"The right to participate in democracy through political contributions is protected by the First Amendment, but that right is not absolute. Our cases have held that Con­gress may regulate campaign contributions to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption. See, e.g., Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1, 26–27 (1976) (per curiam).At the same time, we have made clear that Congress may not regulate contributions simply to reduce the amount of money in politics, or to restrict the political participation of some in order to enhance the relative influence of others."

Four justices dissented - Breyer, Ginsberg, Sotomayor and Kagan.

In his withering dissent, Justice Breyer wrote:

"[The Majority's] conclusion rests upon its own, not a record-based, view of the facts. Its legal analysis is faulty: It misconstrues the nature of the competing constitutional interests at stake. It understates the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institutions It creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate's campaign. Taken together with Citizens United v FEC, today's decision eviscerates our Nation's campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve."

(But of course, that is the intention of the Majority.)

Breyer continues, "The result, as I said at the outset, is a decision that substitutes judges' understandings of how the political process works for the understanding of Congress; that fails to recognize the difference between influence resting upon public opinion and influence bought by money alone; that overturns key precedent, that creates huge loopholes in the law, and that undermines, perhaps devastates, what remains of campaign finance reform..."

Indeed, Roberts pointed the way to addressing the problem - it isn't by law, because the Roberts Court will strike down every law that seeks to establish fair elections or regulate campaign finance.

The answer comes from his own decision:

"This Court has identified only one legitimate governmental interest for restricting campaign finances: preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption. See Davis, supra, at 741. Moreover, the only type of corruption that Congress may target is quid pro quo corruption. Spending large sums of money in connection with elec­tions, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to quid pro quo corrup­tion. Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner 'influence over or access to' elected officials or po­litical parties. Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, 558 U. S. 310, 359. The line between quid pro quo corruption and general in­fluence must be respected in order to safeguard basic First Amend­ment rights, and the Court must 'err on the side of protecting politi­cal speech rather than suppressing it'.”

The answer is for citizens groups and good-government groups to sue politicians directly.

Roberts said it himself: quid pro quo corruption is a crime.

So sue politicians for proposing legislation that is written by lobbyists and special interests. To tie their votes back to the donors.

"Now super-wealthy donors like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson can spend multi-millions (or even billions!) of dollars spread across a limitless amount of political campaigns whenever they want. It is nothing short of legalized bribery," Dr. Paul Song, Courage Campaign SuperPAC wrote.

The theme of his message: "There's only one way to respond to the Supreme Court's horrific ruling - give money."

Political activism is a $1 billion industry.

Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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