In Tuesday’s press conference, President Obama got it right: The flood of big money into our elections has enabled more extreme politics to influence decisionmaking—and that leads to impasses like the current government shutdown. The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision is one big reason for our money-soaked elections.
Here’s what the President said today:
I continue to believe that Citizens United contributed to some of the problems we’re having in Washington right now. You have some ideological extremists who have a big bankroll, and they can entirely skew our politics. And there are a whole bunch of members of Congress right now who privately will tell you, “I know our positions are unreasonable but we’re scared that if we don’t go along with the tea party agenda or some particularly extremist agenda that we’ll be challenged from the right.”
But the flood of money in politics is likely to get even worse. As of now, there remains a thin veil between big money and candidates: There are limits on how much a person (or corporation) can contribute directly to a candidate’s campaign or political party.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard a case that could tear away even that thin veil: McCutcheon v. the Federal Election Commission, a case brought by Shaun McCutcheon, a Republican donor from Alabama, seeking to abolish limits on the amount of money donated to candidates.
Under Citizens United, anyone—including giant corporations—can contribute as much as they want to so-called “independent” organizations, like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS. If McCutcheon prevails, the same unlimited amounts of cash will flow directly to candidates and their political parties. It’s the last step toward shredding any form of restriction on election contributions.
But here’s the good news: By a wide margin, Americans don’t like this legalized form of political corruption, and they are taking action. Since the Citizens United decision, groups like Move to Amend, Public Citizen, and Free Speech for People have been at the forefront of campaigns to pass a constitutional amendment that would bring back our ability to regulate money in politics.
Constitutional amendments are hard to pass. That didn’t stop the suffragettes in their quest to get women the vote. And it needn’t stop us. Already 16 states and more than 300 towns and cities have passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment. Many more legislative bodies have such calls in the works.
As the outrage grows over campaign spending and the gridlock that ensues, the momentum for change also grows. Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules in McCutcheon, you can bet that in towns, cities, and states across the country we will see more calls for a constitutional amendment. Stay tuned. This fight is far from over.
Fran Korten is a contributing editor for YES! Magazine, writing about opportunities to advance a progressive agenda in politics, economics, and the environment.