In Citizens United, McCutcheon and a series of other rulings, the Supreme Court has equated spending with speech, arguing that limits on “independent expenditures” violate First Amendment rights. The rulings essentially give a few very wealthy speakers – billionaires like the Koch brothers, large corporations and groups – a license to drown out the rest of the country in our political debates. The decisions also are grounded in the fantasy that so long as political contributions are not given directly to candidates or their campaign committees, the money won't influence or corrupt those who benefit from it.
Every member of Congress and every aspiring politician who hopes to serve there must now think about the financial impact of his or her position on virtually every issue. A vote cast in support of a big contributor’s position may guarantee the congressman will have more than enough money to ensure reelection; a “wrong” vote may trigger the financing of a crippling campaign of negative ads.
It is hard to imagine how America can face the difficult challenges of the 21st Century – climate change, energy independence, international unrest, and an unsteady economy – and achieve real progress when our elected representatives face such fundraising challenges and are so dependent on financial elites for their political survival. Americans of all political stripes understand that our political system is now rigged in favor of special interests; their frustration and disaffection with politics as usual is a major factor in the growth of the Tea Party and the Occupy movement.