In his majority opinion in the landmark 2010 Citizens United case, Justice Anthony Kennedy made a series of pronouncements about the campaign finance system that appeared naive at the time to many, and that now look frankly ridiculous considering the hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars flying through campaign bank accounts, PACs and other groups:
“… we now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”
“The appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.”
“The fact that speakers (i.e., contributors) may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that these officials are corrupt.”
“…independent expenditures do not lead to, or create the appearance of, quid pro quo corruption….Ingratiation and access, in any event, are not corruption.”
Compare those statements to the findings of the latest NY Times/CBS News poll, which asked a series of questions about the campaign finance system:
Eighty-five percent of Americans — and 85 percent of Republicans — believe that politicians promote policies that help their contributors some or most of the time. Eighty-four percent — and 80 percent of Americans — believe that money wields too much influence in our political system.
But no, there’s no corruption, and as Kennedy assured us, there’s not even the appearance of corruption. Nor is there any reason to fear a loss of public faith in democracy.
On other questions, 86 percent of Americans — and 81 percent of Republicans — believe that the campaign finance system has become so bad that it requires fundamental change or even a complete rebuild.
Seventy-eight percent — and 71 percent of Republicans — believe that expenditures by independent committees ought to be limited. Seventy-five percent — and 76 percent of Republicans — believe that contributions to such committees ought to be publicly disclosed.
Thanks to Citizens United, neither applies under current campaign finance law.
The system is corrupt. It has always been corrupt to a degree, of course, but at least there were once laws to limit that corruption and to penalize those who broke those laws.
Today, basically, there are no laws and no limits. And there is no way on Earth to believe that the massive sums of unregulated, undisclosed money flowing through the political system have not had a similarly massive distorting influence on how that system operates and whom it serves. To believe that, you would have to believe that American politicians, unique among politicians worldwide and indeed among human beings worldwide, are somehow so pristine as to be immune to the blandishments of money delivered in increments of six, seven or even eight digits.
Do YOU believe that?