There’s no way we didn’t see this coming.
This week’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision, split along partisan lines, has guaranteed that money will play an even bigger role in American politics. Big donors – who are overwhelmingly conservative Republicans – can now contribute to as many candidates and party committees as they want, in every election cycle.
Is this a travesty?
Is this a threat to our democracy?
Yes, it’s that serious.
Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote for the minority of four, reading his 30-page dissent from the bench:
“[The majority’s] conclusion rests upon its own, not a record-based, view of the facts. Its legal analysis is faulty. It misconstrues the nature of the competing constitutional interests at stake. It understates the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institutions. It creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign.
“Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, today’s decision eviscerates our nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”
Is this court’s decision a surprise?
As New York Times reporter Adam Liptak wrote:
“Led by Chief Justice [John] Roberts, the court has been consistently hostile to campaign finance limits in its half-dozen decisions in argued cases on the subject so far. The five more conservative justices have voted together in all of those cases.”
True to form, House Speaker John Boehner brayed incoherently after the decision came down.
“You all have the freedom to write what you want to write,” he told reporters. “Donors ought to have the freedom to give what they want to give.”
Because, you see, the dwindling number of journalists working for news organizations struggling to survive are quite the match for the monsoon of false TV ads headed our way.
It’s a pattern. As we learned in Ohio in 2012, even after reporters fact checked a Mitt Romney ad about Chrysler’s moving its Jeep plant out of the state and declared it an outright lie, the commercial kept running, over and over, for weeks.
Even before this Supreme Court decision, the truth was fungible.
Now imagine that same strategy with unlimited funds.
Tucked in this horrid tale, however, is a story of hope. Keep in mind that Romney’s campaign of well-funded fear tactics failed to win Ohio and lost the White House.
It’s easy to understand this week’s hand-wringing among activists for campaign finance reform and the fear of regular Americans who believe that the Supreme Court just sanctioned big-money efforts to render them mute.
We are allowed this rage and angst, but it must not last. As I wrote just last month after the Ohio GOP swept in a new round of voting restrictions, despair rewards Republicans.
“In my view,” former Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote on Facebook on Wednesday, “we must amend the Constitution to establish once and for all that (1) money is not speech under the First Amendment, (2) corporations are not people, and (3) we the people have the right to set limits on how much money individuals and corporations can spend on elections.”
Yes, that. All that.
And this: We must set the tone for what comes next, long before such sweeping changes in Congress. So much of politics, of governance, is a head game. Each of us decides what gets in.
Get angry, sure.
Get involved, please. Start today. Next person you see, ask what he or she knows about what our Supreme Court did to our country this week. Know enough to explain it. Democracy is hard work. Engage.
Above all, get over this notion that all is lost. That is true only with our consent.
I don’t have to think twice about that one.
• Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including “...and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.