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McCutcheon ruling continues to break democracy

Buckley v. Valeo decided that money equals speech. First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti established corporate personhood. Citizens United v. FEC gave entities known as Super PACs the ability to unlimitedly raise and spend on political campaigns. Now, another Supreme Court ruling washes away even more of the United States’ already tattered campaign finance laws. Special interests couldn’t be happier.

The $123,200 combined donation limit on all campaigns was struck down April 2 as McCutcheon v. FEC was ruled on in a 5-4 decision. Some limits remain but anyone can now donate to an unlimited number of political races and committees.

Special interests can now donate $5,200-$2,600 to each primary and general election — for every House and Senate race. $10,000 can be donated to each state committee per year. $32,400 can be donated to each of the three national committees per year. Additionally, $5,000 can go to every political committee that deals with other non-election issues.

The limit is no longer a legal matter in terms of the amount of money a person can spend; it is physical. By donating the maximum to all available federal-level candidate races and committees for the 2013-2014 election cycle, the total limit would be $3.64 million, according to Bloomberg News.

Proponents say this has made the people free. Indeed, the rich are “free” to do as they please.

While the new “maximum” donation is significant, it pales in comparison to what Super PACs are capable of doing. Regardless, the few people affected may now have a little more direct leverage over elections. Special interest individuals will not need to pick and choose the best politician to try to personally buy. If they have $3.64 million, they can simply buy them all, and $5,200 can be a lot of money in some districts.

Even more concerning is the court’s continued interpretation of corruption. Political corruption is now limited to direct, quid pro quo, bribery; however money in politics can still be regulated for activities that create the “appearance of corruption.” The fact that the Supreme Court does not believe that the billions of dollars spent by special interests in Super PACs and direct contributions do not even create the appearance of corruption is dumbfounding. Even more frustrating is that this precedent may lead to even more court cases as anti-corruption laws are challenged.

In order to reverse the course of the Supreme Court, some organizations have sought to pass a constitutional amendment. Article V of the U.S. Constitution details the ways in which the Constitution can be altered. Typically, an amendment is proposed by Congress and then ratified by the states, but an Article V convention allows the states to bypass Congress, allowing the states themselves to propose an amendment.

Colby Clipston is the Oregon director of Wolf PAC, an organization seeking to call an Article V convention to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution and reverse the chain of Supreme Court decisions that have led to this point. Clipston explains why such a proposal cannot be passed through Congress.

“[Congress] can’t even pass something as simple as the Disclose Act, which was just to make them tell us who’s bribing them, so to think that they’d ever be able to pass an amendment addressing ending that bribery is beyond wishful thinking,” Clipston said via email.

Despite a lack of interest by Congress, campaign finance reform is a widely supported and non-partisan issue.

 A June 2013 Gallup poll found that 79 percent of adults in the nation would place raising and spending limitations on political candidates. With similar numbers among all age groups, 82 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of Republicans and 78 percent of independents agreed to this. About half of adults would support making the entire election system publicly funded.

Wolf PAC is one group which that witnessed this rare case of ideological agreement firsthand.

“Our first state to introduce our resolution calling for an Article V Convention on this issue was Texas where it was supported by Democrats and the Tea Party Republicans,” Clipston said. “It wasn’t able to pass both houses that year, but it serves as an iconic example of how this is an issue all Americans agree on regardless of their political ideology.”

Students have shown interest in this cause as well.

“As far as student groups go, we’ve seen a very strong outpouring of support from students on this issue all across the country,” Clipston said. “In many states students that volunteer to call their representatives end up also forming groups at their colleges to spread the word about the work Wolf-PAC is doing.”

While the legislation was unable to be brought up this year, the resolution will have a chance in 2015, according to Clipston; however support by state legislators continues to grow in the meantime.

“Senators Shields, Monroe, Edwards and Representatives Barker, Buckley, and Greenlick have all said they’d be willing to personally introduce our resolution in the coming session and Senator Monnes Anderson has also said she’ll be at least a cosponsor,” Clipston said. “If they weren’t retiring this session we’d also have Representatives Berger, Hicks, Conger and Unger on that list as well.”

This shows that representative democracy is still alive and strong at the state-level, but with the newfound ability for individuals to donate to each federal candidate in every district, democracy just got a little smaller. As a result, the need to find a way to reverse the inundation of money in politics just got even more imperative as this flood of money inches closer to swallowing our last surviving bastion of democracy.

“Are we going to have a system ‘reliant on the people alone’, or one that’s about getting votes through whatever bribery one can muster?” Clipston said.