Today’s Supreme Court Ruling on McCutcheon vs. the Federal Elections Commission(FEC) is yet another nail in the coffin of U.S. democracy. The high court struck down the right of “We the People” to establish laws limiting overall campaign contributions by individuals. Such limits have been set in an attempt to create a level playing field in our democracy for rich and poor alike.
The political playing field was already unequal, since over the years the Supreme Court has increasingly granted civil rights and constitutional protections to corporations. This expansion of corporate rights culminated in the infamous 2010 ruling in Citizens United vs. the FEC, which prohibits our right to limit corporate spending on elections through political action committees (PACs). The Citizens United decision resulted in the overturning of campaign finance laws at the federal level and in states across the nation. Today’s McCutcheon ruling is also disastrous for democracy.
Our local Nevada County Move to Amend group, in Northern California, works in coordination with the national Move to Amend Coalition. We held a rally this afternoon to protest the McCutcheon ruling. “Rapid response” rallies were held in over 140 communities around the country. Our group had pre-printed signs that said “Democracy is not for sale.” Sadly, we crossed out the word “not” on our signs because, evidently, democracy is for sale, now more than ever before. Money counts as free speech. Wealthy donors cannot be limited in aggregate campaign contributions. Corporations are treated as persons under the law. Large Corporations, which control vast sums of capital, count as individual people. The Market rules. Money is God. This is the secular religion that now rules our nation.
This is not democracy. It is oligarchy–rule by the wealthy.
Several constitutional amendments have been proposed as a solution to both the gradual erosion of our democratic rights and the occasional cataclysms such as Citizens United and McCutcheon. Since the Supreme Court interprets the constitution and there is no higher court to whom to appeal, amending the constitution is the only solution left to us. There is a process by which to do this, and this process has resulted in 27 constitutional amendments intended to secure and expand the rights of all people in our nation.
What kind of an amendment would be effective in creating a truly participatory democracy? Move to Amend’s “We the People Amendment” makes clear that corporations are not people and that money is not speech. An even more ambitious amendment has been proposed by Rabbi Michael Lerner, the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment (ESRA) that the Network of Spiritual Progressives has been promoting. It would go further than Move to Amend in transforming not just money in politics but the many other social and environmental issues that are related to democratic reform (and what issues are not?) Rabbi Lerner explains the proposed amendment and compares it favorably to Move to Amend’s amendment in his press release here.
It will be difficult to pass any amendment under the current system, and there are discussions and debates about what the amendment should be. We may have just one chance to pass an effective amendment, so it’s time now for soul searching and frank conversations about values and strategy. Whatever we decide, building the momentum to pass an amendment will require the coming together of people of every faith tradition and spiritual perspective, indeed, anyone who cares about humanity, the earth and the common good. The time is now.