Lost in all the hubub over health care has been a Supreme Court’s hearing this week on a case that challenges campaign finance regulations prohibiting big corporations from directly pouring money into election campaigns. That’s the topic Ben and I take on in our Scripps column this week. My take:
Imagine the following scenario: You’re in a coffee shop, talking politics with a friend. The conversation is heated at times, but at least you both have a chance to make your point. Now a third guy walks in and sits next to your table — with a megaphone. He proceeds to drown out your conversation with a steady torrent of high-volume babble that makes it impossible for you to communicate with your friend.
In this scenario, everybody is technically exercising free speech. But megaphone man has rendered you and your friend mute. That’s exactly what will happen if the Supreme Court strikes down restrictions on campaign contributions by corporations and labor unions: Giant institutions will rule the political discourse even more than they do now. The little guy will be drowned out.
All branches of government have long recognized that such inequity distorts and undermines democracy. For a century now, Congress has passed laws to regulate such contributions. Presidents have signed those bills. The Supreme Court has upheld the laws. Each has recognized the ability of big corporations — and their big money — to overwhelm political debate in this country.
“Because of the numerous advantages that the corporate form confers, a corporation’s ability to pay for electoral advocacy has ‘little or no correlation to the public’s support for the corporation’s political ideas,’” the government said in its brief to the Supreme Court, citing the court’s own previous rulings.
Furthermore, a vote to strike down the regulations would make a mockery of conservative complaints of “judicial activism.” The court would be disregarding its own precedent and the wishes of the American people expressed through their elected representatives. And for what? So the guy with the megaphone can make sure you’re never heard again.