Last week, the ﬁve conservative judges on the U.S. Supreme Court deemed that monetary caps on how much an individual could contribute to a political campaign was unconstitutional. Last year, those same ﬁve conservative justices gutted critical key provisions to the U.S. Voting Rights Act. Back in 2010, those same ﬁve conservative judges gave us Citizens United, giving corporations the same Freedom of Speech rights only intended for citizens — that is people.
These rulings coincide, not coincidentally, with unprecedented cash ﬂowing into political campaigns. According to the Wall Street Journal, Super PACs alone poured nearly $568 million in the 2012 elections. That is compared with $30 million in spending during the 2008 election cycle. Overall, total spending – which included Super PACs and “social welfare” groups (yeah the same ones whose tax-exempt status the IRS had the gaul to question) totaled roughly $5.8billion. And that’s only the money we know about. Because not only did Citizens United remove the taps on political cash ﬂow, it also cloaked the source. There’s so much money polluting the political waters, through shadowy 501C(4)s, that it is even difﬁcult for the watchdogs to keep up with how much, where it’s coming from, and how it’s being used. What we do know is that due, in part to the U.S. Supreme Court, we now have a political system in which 105 people (roughly the top 1 percent of super Pac contributors) now make up about 58 percent of all super PAC funding.
In looking at all this inﬂuence peddling, it is easy to focus on the class of “Super Citizens” that the U.S. Supreme Court have effectively created by giving them unfettered inﬂuence on our political processes. People like Las Vegas gambling tycoon Sheldon Adelson, one man legally entitled to one vote who personally bankrolled Mitt Romney’s presidential election campaign — donating roughly $10 million to get his man elected. Or people like the Koch Brothers, who thanks again to the U.S. Supreme Court, have spent millions more electing tea party politicians and are directly responsible for the gross overrepresentation of extremism in the U.S. Congress — despite the fact that the U.S. electorate has gotten more liberal on a host of issues from gay marriage to marijuana legalization to gun control or raising the U.S. Federal Minimum Wage.
During this iteration of the U.S. Supreme Court, ﬁve people have effectively been allowed to decapitate the entire concept of Representative Democracy.
In a Representative Democracy, elected ofﬁcials represent the electorate. Their entire purpose is ensure that there are elected individuals representing the people, as opposed to autocracy and direct democracy. The entire system is designed to ensure that representation is in proportion to those being represented and that majority rules. In the U.S. Congress, speciﬁcally, representation is directly tied and in proportion to the population of a speciﬁc electorate. In the very practice of having free elections where each citizen, regardless of wealth, is only afforded one vote, we have tried to uphold this fragile notion of Representative Democracy.
But when the U.S. Supreme Court uses words like speech and money and people and corporations interchangeably, you no longer have a Representative Democracy. When 105 of the richest among us are allowed to buy elections across the nation unchecked, you no longer have a Democracy. What you now have is an Oligarchy.
And why now? Why now does the U.S. Supreme Court choose to dismantle voter protections for minorities while giving the rich and powerful, white and male, unprecedented inﬂuence over our political processes? Why now do they choose to redeﬁne the meaning of democracy, where one individual’s freedom to give money suddenly outweighs our collective right to uncompromised elections? Could it be because there is a black man in the White House and a woman waiting in the wings? Could it be because within the next 10 years white people will no longer be the clear majority of the U.S. electorate?
Could it be because the U.S. Supreme Court neither respects or accepts the changing demographics of the U.S. electorate and has no interest in upholding a Democracy with an electorate that no longer looks like them?
These questions are just the symptoms. The real illness is the U.S. Supreme Court.
Devona Walker is the politics editor for The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @DevonaWalker.