If we needed any more proof of how divorced from reality the Supreme Court's conservatives are, we got it last week, with the ruling on McCutcheon v. FEC. As Mark Shields put it on the PBS NewsHour, "these five majority justices must be hermetically sealed."
Money in politics doesn't corrupt, according to the Supreme 5. And so, thanks to the McCutcheon ruling, there's now no limit on the total amount of money an individual person can give to federal political campaigns. There's still a limit on how much each of us can give to an individual candidate, political party, and party committee, but we can give to as many different ones as we like. And political parties can pool that money and put it behind individual candidates.
This compounds the damage done by the same Supremes in Citizens United, which eliminated the limits on what corporations and organizations can give to political campaigns.
Money in politics doesn't corrupt? Give me a break. The big donors aren't giving money to candidates simply because they like their looks. Their money buys access. It buys influence.
It buys votes.
Republicans, delighted with the ruling, praised it as a protection of free speech. "I'm all for freedom," said House Speaker John Boehner.
But some of us are also for equal opportunity. And for the protection of democracy. And the court's rulings on campaign donations insure that there'll be no such equality and no such protection.
"What offends us about money-for-vote exchanges," Adam Lioz wrote in the American Prospect a few days before the ruling, "isn't the quid pro quo nature of it so much as that this type of bargaining doesn't take place on a level playing field. After all, it's only the prospect of contributing substantially more than fellow citizens that raises the prospect of undue influence. If we could all afford to give a member of Congress a $100,000 bribe or campaign contribution, that check probably wouldn't buy much."
"We have a gut-level sense that we should come to the political table as equals in America," Lioz said, "and in a very real way our outrage over corruption can be traced to the ways in which bargaining for legislative success with money leaves us far short of this ideal. It violates our basic sense of political equality – birthed in the Declaration of Independence, baptized through a Civil War, nurtured through the Progressive Era, tested and matured through the Civil Rights battles of a prior generation.
Small donations from individual contributors become less and less important, Big Money from Big Donors more important. And the Big Donors want something specific: legislation that will help them, help their companies or their organizations. And with campaigns becoming more expensive, the politicians do what they have to do to get the money.
Potential Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential race have already begun to curry the favor of the rich, Mark Shields noted on the NewsHour. Five of them showed up in Las Vegas in late March "to genuflect" before casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. "They were sycophants," said Shields.
This is not democracy.
And a few days after the McCutcheon ruling, New York Times finance columnist Frank Norris reminded us of the kinds of legislation that Big Money likes. A Senate committee has been investigating a tactic Caterpillar has used to lower its taxes. It simply took its name off of invoices for parts it sent to customers in other countries, substituting the name of a Swiss subsidiary.
The parts "might have never come within a thousand miles of Switzerland," Norris wrote, but Caterpillar booked the profits as though they were made by the Swiss subsidiary, saving billions in US taxes.
Perfectly legal, apparently, under US tax law.
Tax codes, health care, education, the environment, energy policy, minimum wage, Social Security, foreign policy: we don't have to guess where we're headed. The Supreme Court's majority is removed from reality, Big Money is in charge, and we're getting locked out of democracy.