Yelling fire

Rick Weiland South Dakota Senate Candiate

 The argument that money has the right to speech advanced in Buckley, Citizens United, and now McCutcheon, is of a feather with some of the most infamous decisions of the United States Supreme Court.  

 The infamy of Dred Scott, Plessy, Minor and Korematsu is that they denied African Americans, women and Japanese Americans their fundamental right to have their voices heard equally with those of their fellow citizens.  The denial in Dred Scott was far more direct and severe than that of the other cases, but each of these cases involves dangerous denial of that right.

 The failure of the Supreme Court to see the danger here results from looking too hard at legal texts and not hard enough at the real world.  

 For any court to hold the right of one person to make 100 million dollars in political contributions and to summon leading candidates for the presidency of the United States to appear before him so he can judge their fitness for that office, does not infringe upon the rights of his fellow citizens, requires a truly shocking denial of reality.

 Political reality today is that America is being turned into a plutocracy by the ability of big money to buy what it wants from Washington and increasingly from every other level of government as well.

Political reality today is that politicians who used to be public servants are now servants of the big money that elected them.

How else can you explain the endless array of policy decisions at every level of government that are vehemently opposed by large majorities of ordinary citizens, but are made anyway by elected officials.

 Think about it.  90 percent plus majorities of the voting public oppose offshore tax havens for billionaires and yet they persist.  90 percent oppose shutting our government down, yet it is shut down.  Oil spills occur, dangerous vehicles are sold, banks evict families from homes they have been conned into buying, payday lenders extort poor families, all practices supported by virtually no one, but permitted to persist, even encouraged by the representatives supposedly elected by the people these things harm.  

 Each of these policies, and many more, result from the corrosive effect of big money political contributions.  These contributions corrode both parties.  They corrode the public’s trust in their own government.  

They corrode even the word “politics,” democracy’s alternative to decision by bloody violence, which has now disastrously been made a synonym for incompetence, greed, and corruption by the mayhem wrought upon it by big money.

When elected officials must spend 80 percent of their time begging billionaires for money to stay elected, and a Supreme Court does not think that deprives we thousandaires of equal protection of the law, that Court is blind.

The statistics purporting to show that big money influence is not a problem because occasionally a candidate with less money happens to win, are a farce.  Of course that happens, but it is irrelevant.  Both candidates are begging for big money, not people’s votes.  The staffs of both candidates are meeting with big money donors and lobbyists, not ordinary voters.  The consultants who advise candidates make their biggest dollars from big money.  Even those in the employ of candidates and elected officials are on the prowl for big money jobs as soon as they can find them.

 This and more is what is enabled by decisions like McCutcheon, which defend the right to free speech of a tiny handful of billionaires and powerful institutions by devaluing to the point of near worthlessness the free speech rights of everyone else.

 Why, we should ask this court, is the yelling of “fire” in a crowded theater, which is the universally recognized example of speech not constitutionally protected because it infringes on the rights of others, not almost perfectly analogous to what happens when Sheldon Adelson yells in his billion dollar voice, “give me everything I want,” so that the 300 million other Americans yelling in their ten dollar voices, “no, please don’t,” are drowned out? 

 This and more is why the growth of wealth in America over the last 30 years has gone almost 100 percent to the richest and most powerful 1 percent of Americans, and almost not at all to those of us whose voices at the ballot box are being drowned out by a tidal wave of talking money

The line of “money talks” decisions capped by McCutcheon is a fundamental threat to democracy because it denies the rights of 99 percent of the American people to compete on a level playing field in the one place that matters most in a democracy, at the ballot box. 

 That, in my book, reserves for it a place in infamy alongside the very worst decisions ever made by the United States Supreme Court.

Worst, second worst, fifth worst, who cares?  Talking money is destroying our democracy and we need to pass a constitutional amendment to stop it now!



Rick Weiland is a Sioux Falls small businessman and the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in South Dakota