LETTER: Aggregate limits didn't burden speech

Written by Tyler Creighton on April 8, 2014

Thumbnail for the Overturn Citizens United campaign

The $123,000 aggregate contribution limit stuck down by the Supreme Court last week in McCutcheon v. FEC was anything but "arbitrary" and "burden[some] on First Amendment speech" (Did Supreme Court 'open floodgate' for unlimited campaign cash?, Lawrence Eagle Tribune, April 6). The limit was necessary to deter public corruption and the appearance thereof. In 2012, a mere 600 or so people, representing a whopping .0002% of the U.S. voting age population, hit the limit.

Ben Boychuk notes that "although speech may be free, influential speech costs money." Does that mean that only those with many zeros in their bank accounts have the right to speech that matters, while the voices' of the rest of us are inconsequential? Far from freedom of speech protection, McCutcheon amplifies the voice of a handful of ultra-wealthy that can contribute $3.6 million directly to candidates, and muffles that of the 99.99% of Americans who can't afford to give at that level or even $5, $10 or $100.

And what is the result to government of, by and for the people? Big contributions purchase access and influence in policymaking, and big donors have very different views than average Americans. A study in this area by political scientist Martin Gilens finds that government "responsiveness is strongly tilted toward the most affluent citizens," or the very same people who contribute the vast majority of campaign funds each election. Striking down aggregate contribution limits places government decision making even more in the hands of a few billionaires and multi-millionaires rather than in the hands of the American citizenry.

A constitutional amendment, public financing of elections, and full disclosure of political giving and spending are necessary to curb the activist and politically naive Court and to bring our democracy back in line with the founding principle of one person one vote.

Office: Common Cause National, Common Cause Massachusetts

Issues: Money in Politics, Money in Politics

Tags: Democracy Amendment , Citizens United

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