Jun 12, 2010
a dinner party, an ever-so-proper aristocrat who had been at the
British evacuation of Dunkirk sixty years ago, remained tightlipped
despite intense questioning from the other guests about what he had
Finally, he shuddered at the memory and exclaimed, "The noise, my dear, and the people!"
apocryphal story, perhaps, but the highfalutin' Supreme Court of the
United States has the same attitude toward America -- this would be
such a great country if it wasn't for all the noise and all those people.
Bad enough that last week the court narrowly redefined Miranda rights
in such a way that seems to say that if one of those aforementioned
people is arrested and remains silent about their right to remain
silent, anything you do say, if you say something, can and will be held
against you. An interpretation as worthy of Lewis Carroll as it is
But of course such reasoning is not surprising from a court that ruled
earlier this year that corporations are people, too -- really BIG
people -- whether you're a major banking entity bilking the little guy
for billions or a petrochemical giant obscenely filling the Gulf of
Mexico with crude, like Rabelais' Gargantua, relieving himself from the
towers of Notre Dame and drowning the city of Paris.
The Supreme Court's infamous Citizens United
ruling cited free speech as its reason, giving corporate America the
right to pour unlimited money into political and issues campaigns,
lavishing cash on whichever candidates run fastest to do their bidding.
This week, the Supremes went even further, proving once again that when
it comes to American politics and government, money talks, and it does
so with the biggest, loudest megaphone dollars can buy.
On Tuesday, the court issued an unsigned, emergency order halting an
essential part of Arizona's model campaign finance system. It grants
matching funds to candidates who accept public financing limits but
find themselves running against wealthy candidates whose pockets are so
deep, money is no object.
As The New York Times
reported, the stay "will probably remain in effect through both the
primary in August and the general election in November. The court
instructed the candidates challenging the matching fund law to file a
prompt appeal. If the court agrees to hear the case, as is likely, it
is unlikely to be argued and decided before the November election." But
by then, of course, the damage will be done.
In the long run, the ruling could have an impact on similar finance
campaign laws in other states, including Connecticut and Maine, but it
immediately impacts 133 candidates running for state office in Arizona,
including incumbent Governor Jan Brewer, whose recent signing of the
state's notorious illegal immigration bill has made her the favorite
for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.
But she is a publicly funded candidate who was due to receive more than
$2.1 million under the current Arizona system. Without the matching
funds, according to the state's Clean Elections Institute, "That amount
will drop by 66 percent to $707,447." One of her opponents, businessman
Buz Mills, already has spent $2.3 million, much of it his own money.
Not surprisingly, he hailed the Supreme Court's order as "a tremendous
victory for Arizona taxpayers and the First Amendment."
The New York Times quoted Richard Hasen, a professor at Los Angeles'
Loyola Law School: "The developments in Arizona show just what a tough
litigation environment it is right now for those in the lower courts
seeking to defend reasonable campaign finance regulations. Without
matching funds provisions, public financing programs are unlikely to
attract substantial participation from serious candidates, who fear
being vastly outmatched by self-financed opponents or major independent
The ruling came down the same day that California voters rejected
Proposition 15, which would have experimented with a publicly financed
campaign system similar to Arizona's -- starting with the next two
elections for California's secretary of state.
Ironically, that defeat and the Supreme Court's action in Arizona
occurred on a primary election day that saw Meg Whitman and Carly
Fiorina emerge victorious as California's Republican Party candidates
for governor and senator respectively. Each of them spent millions and
millions of their own money to win.
Whitman says she's ready to spend $150 million of her eBay fortune to
defeat Democratic candidate Jerry Brown. No matter who comes out on
top, that kind of cash will generate a lot of smoke. Ordinary people
may once again be outshouted by monied interests that wield their
financial power like an authoritarian, plutocratic cudgel.
We need a constitutional amendment rejecting the anti-democratic course
this Supreme Court has chosen. An amendment that establishes an
equitable, public campaign financing system that levels the playing
field for anyone who wants to run for office, no matter what their
income or bankrolling connections. And we need it now.
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