A poll conducted late last year found that more than 7 in 10 voters think our election system is “biased in favor of the candidate with the most money.”
While nothing about this number is surprising — except, perhaps, that it’s not even higher — it does reveal the depth of cynicism characterizing Americans’ perceptions of our political system. We believe, correctly, that the system is rigged for the rich.
Especially in the wake of this month’s McCutcheon v. FEC Supreme Court decision that allowed our country’s wealthiest to dump even more money directly into our elections, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of America’s money in politics problem.
But as always, the biggest dangers create the biggest opportunities for change. With the McCutcheon ruling, the Supreme Court added fuel to an already awakened giant — a nationwide movement to reclaim our democracy that’s gaining steam like never before.
More than 150 events took place in 41 states and the District of Columbia the day the ruling came out, with activists pushing for a full range of long and short-term solutions.
A stream of rally photos showed thousands of committed citizens who are rejecting cynicism and pushing for change.
Of course, one avenue toward reducing the extent to which money is distorting politics is the courts themselves. When we cast our ballots in the last presidential elections, some of us were thinking about the connection between who we elect as president and the outcomes of campaign finance cases decided by the Supreme Court.
But not everyone recognizes that there’s a direct link. When you vote for a president, or for a senator, you’re not only electing those people for their term of office; in many ways, their most lasting legacy is who they will nominate and who gets confirmed to sit on our nation’s judiciary.
A change in the composition of the Supreme Court could have massive implications for our democracy. Both Citizens United v. FEC, the infamous case that opened the door to unlimited corporate political spending, and this month’s McCutcheon v. FEC were decided 5-4 with strong dissents. Some sitting justices have spoken out against Citizens United since it was decided.
It’s important for voters to know that our democracy was upended by a single vote. Justices Breyer and Ginsburg went out of their way to issue a separate statement in a 2012 Montana corporate spending case calling into question whether “in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.”
As we elect new presidents who appoint new justices – and elect new senators who confirm or reject them – we can help turn the tide back toward restoring the constitutional power of the American people to impose reasonable limits on money in politics, a power demolished by the arch-conservatives on the Roberts Court.
Another equally important and parallel change effort we should be supporting is the push for a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon. Constitutional amendments are, and should be rare — reserved for the direst circumstances.
But with the power of regulating our elections and protecting our democracy stripped away from “We the People,” this is one of those moments. Everyday Americans and elected officials across the country agree: More than 16 states and 500 towns and cities have already gone on record in support of an amendment that would overturn these cases.
And 149 Members of the House and Senate are now on record in support of constitutional remedies. Such an amendment would establish an important bulwark against future right-wing Supreme Courts.
Whether by changing the court or changing the Constitution, the decisions that have gutted our campaign finance laws have got to go. Our democracy is too valuable to be undermined by a court interested in protecting wealthy special interests at the expense of the rest of us.
Marge Baker is the executive vice president of People For the American Way.