Forty years ago this month, the Supreme Court decided Buckley vs. Valeo, a case that has distorted our thinking and talking about money in politics for nearly two generations and that has taken this country down a perilous path on campaign finance. We should no longer mince words about the consequences for our representative government. Buckley and its offspring Citizens United, which turns six this month, are leading us to plutocracy, a country in which those with the greatest wealth have a much better chance to influence elections and public policy than the rest of us. Yet despite that bleak assessment, there’s some cause for hope. Although SuperPACs and mega-donors shelling out donations topping a whopping $100 million have emerged from the Supreme Court’s troubling decisions, a narrow opportunity for change is coming — provided we can change the way we think about the danger of big money in politics.
In Buckley, the Supreme Court held that campaign contributions could be limited in order to prevent corruption or its appearance, but spending limits violate the First Amendment’s rights of free speech. This ruling has allowed the superwealthy to spend as much as they want on their own campaigns or to independently support or oppose candidates for elected office. In Citizens United, the court gave those same spending rights to business corporations. Those who lament the consequences need to acknowledge what the decisions got right if they want to preserve any possibility of correcting course.
No doubt setting limits on how much people can spend in or contribute to political campaigns raises First Amendment free speech and association concerns. Limits also raise the danger of protecting incumbents and stifling political competition.
Buckley’s fundamental error came not in recognizing these important principles — but in its discussion of the proper balancing of them with society’s interests in limiting money in politics.
Full Article: Rick Hasen: How to end American plutocracy – NY Daily News.