The recent guilt plea by Congressman Ami Bera’s father, 83-year-old Babulal Bera, that he had violated campaign finance laws by making excessive contributions to his son’s Congressional campaign and now facing a 30-month prison term after pleading guilty to two counts of violating campaign finance laws has brought to the fore the discussions about the power of money in the election process in the greatest democracy in the world. While, no one can condone the so-called illegal ways of contributing money to his son’s tough election battle in the state California, Babulal Bera’s action is so insignificant to the way the rich are influencing the elections and their outcomes across the nation.
In this context, the US Supreme Court ruling in 2013, with the then conservative majority by a 5-4 margin affirming their earlier decision disallowing any limit on corporate election spending, is very significant. Everyone knows the impact of the court’s ruling that has ushered in an era of unprecedented money power that is unleashed on the citizens of this country, influencing their beliefs and voting patterns.
The Supreme Court ruling not only allows individuals and corporations to contribute unlimited money to their respective political parties and candidates, but also they could remain anonymous from disclosing their names and the amount to the public. In the name of the First Amendment, corporations and individuals pour in millions of Dollars into campaigns. The irony is that these biggest donations are given to tax-free advocacy groups of political parties and campaigns in defiance even of the admonition in Citizens United that independent contributions should be disclosed. Congress can — and should — require disclosure of secret donations. The Internal Revenue Service should crack down on political organizations that pose as tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations to avoid current disclosure rules.
The net result of this ruling and its national implications are that rich people are going to buy our elections. Estimates say, the money raised during the 2012 cycle of elections has exceeded an unprecedented three Billion Dollars. If President Obama had vowed to raise a Billion Dollars, his opponent, Mitt Romney raised more money than the President every month since he secured his Party’s nomination.
The 2016 election cycle is going to break all the past records. More than six months before the General Elections, according to a Washington Post report, of the $461.7 million donated so far to support Democratic candidates, 17 percent has been raised by super PACs and other independent groups. The presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton raised $191 million and allied super PACs and other independent groups raised$72.9 million. The presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders raised $184.3 million and allied super PACs and other independent groups raised$4.4 million. Republican Party is not behind in any away. Of the $765.6 million donated so far to support Republican candidates, 55 percent has been raised by super PACs and other independent groups.
This is a blow to democratic governance. It means that the political process in this country is going to be up for sale. It allows billionaires to buy the political process. Businesses all over the place want to do away with regulation on business practices. The banks and finance companies are for deregulation. They don’t want government regulation. The corporations that do not want government regulators to monitor their shady deals could pour in millions of Dollars to elect a President or a Member to the Congress or a Senator of their choice and who would favor their unregulated plundering and mismanagement of wealth and ways to generate profits. This is also true with the elected Judiciary members, where there are cases where corporations have poured millions into an election to oust or have a Judge favorable to deregulation elected to the Courts.
It was of some relief to note Justice Stephen Breyer sharing his unwillingness to accept the majority’s belief, expressed in Citizens United, that independent expenditures do not give rise to corruption or even give the appearance of corruption. He also pointed out that the majority conservative Justices had made it plain that they did not have the slightest interest in reconsidering or altering its (unjust) decision.
Democracy is of the people, by the people and for the people, where a majority decide the type of government and leaders they want to rule over the country. However, when money decides who the winner is and the ruling party is going to be, it is not true democracy. A small minority with its money power is able to buy votes, influence elected officials and ultimately has a greater say in policy making. The more the money the rich spend, the more chance they have, they think, of getting their way and of getting policies that are more to their liking. Billionaires come in and spend tens of millions of dollars to defeat a candidate they don’t like or to support a candidate they do like.
The First Amendment is about freedom of speech. It’s not about freedom to spend unlimited amounts of money in an election to buy votes and influence elections and policies. There’s a difference between speaking freely and the sort of influence-peddling that campaign finance reform laws attempt to protect. And in allowing unlimited political spending, this court has opened the door to corruption and to special interest domination of politics. David Axelrod, President Obama’s political strategist, recently invoked a common perception about the 2012 campaign by blaming the Supreme Court for empowering 21st-century “robber barons trying to take over the government.” And that’s not democracy.