The U.S. Supreme Court building. . | AP file photo
Updated: July 27, 2012 6:11AM
The First Amendment survived another challenge Monday. The U.S. Supreme Court stuck by its constitutionally sound position that corporations and unions have the fundamental right to have their voices heard in our elections.
Yes, it was a divided 5-4 decision with liberal justices continuing to demonstrate a distaste for big contributions, an ignorance of the vast resources it takes to run a major political campaign and an undemocratic distrust of the voters to have the intelligence to sort out the great issues of the day.
But in striking down a Montana law restricting corporate contributions, the court’s majority wrote another precedent into the record affirming the freedom of political speech that the Founders saw as vital to the survival of representative government.
Monday’s decision reaffirmed the high court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling that so offended advocates of “campaign finance reform” who see money as the root of all evil in politics. Can money buy unscrupulous politicians? Of course. But the point is that corrupt officeholders can put themselves out for sale thanks to the power they hold in legislative chambers or executive office.
The huge numbers of votes that labor unions deliver at the polling booth can buy politicians too. The evidence of that is all too apparent in budget crises in state capitals and cities across the land. The staggering bills are coming due for the Mercedes-Benz pensions and health-care benefits vote-seeking politicians awarded the public employee unions whose members elected them.
If money could buy an election, Meg Whitman would be governor of California today. This fabulously successful businesswoman spent $178.5 million — $144 million of it her own money — in her failed 2010 gubernatorial bid. Winner Gov. Jerry Brown spent only about 20 percent of that — $36.5 million.
The sore losers in the failed attempt to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker because he dared to reform collective-bargaining privileges and rein in the out-of-control costs of public sector benefits complain they were outspent. But no amount of money can defeat an idea whose time has come. Walker was on the right side of history, and voters saw the value of his reforms.
The Citizens United ruling was blamed by campaign finance “reformers” for the surge in independent political spending by SuperPACs. Writing for the dissenters in Monday’s ruling, Justice Stephen Breyer said that spending “casts grave doubt on the court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so.” Breyer did not name one case of a politician being bought. Instead he tacked on the phrase “appear” to corrupt. The “appearance of corruption” is the chief argument advanced for campaign finance laws. Lawmakers have no business legislating to control “appearances.” Let prosecutors handle the corrupt, and leave political speech unfettered.
The best way to battle corruption in politics is to reduce the leverage politicians have in our lives. Reforming the tax code and defanging the politicians’ ability to add loopholes like the thousands of deductions, credits and special interest provisions in it, would do more to advance the cause of honesty in government than campaign finance “reform.” Politicians have the power to reach into every American’s life — that’s why vast sums are spent on elections, and why some politicians will always be for sale.