03 May 2014

On last Tuesday October 8 at 10:00 a.m. the day that the United States Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments on McCutcheon vs. FEC, Ohio PIRG held a press conference outside the Ohio Supreme Court on Front Street, just south of W. Broad Street in downtown Columbus. Speaking at the press conference were representatives of Ohio PIRG, Common Cause, Move to Amend, Communication Workers of America, and the Sierra Club.


Alabama political donor Shaun McCutcheon has asked the court to strike down the overall limit on what an individual can give to federal candidates, parties, and PACs in a two year election cycle. That limit currently stands at $123,200 – over twice the average household income in the U.S. In 2012, only 1,219 donors came within 10% of hitting the aggregate limit. New research from U.S. PIRG and Demos projects that if the limit is lifted, this small set of donors would raise their giving and inject an additional $1 billion in campaign contributions through the 2020 elections.


The Supreme Court has never struck down a federal contribution limit, maintaining that these limits are constitutional because they prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption. The contribution limits have been upheld by the Supreme Court in 1976, 2003 and 2006. The groups represented at the press conference argue that right now, when confidence in Congress is at an all time low, it would be extremely unwise to toss aside that precedent.


McCutcheon vs. FEC has been tagged by Move to Amend.org as Citizens United 2.0. While both cases, McCutcheon and Citizens United, emphasize lifting campaign spending limits, McCutcheon is aimed specifically at removing direct individual (“hard” money) contribution limits imposed by the original FEC Act of 1974. The Citizens United decision of January 2010 removed limits on so-called indirect political (“soft”) spending during political campaigns. Specifically, Citizens United sanctioned direct spending from corporate treasury funds as protected speech under the First Amendment. This action was justified by the Court under the doctrine of corporate personhood which grants corporations civil legal rights intended only for people in the original United States Constitution. This decision has unleashed a flood of corporate money (and influence) into the American political process.


“Most Americans do not feel that our voices are being heard on Capitol Hill, and who could blame us? In Citizens United the Supreme Court handed a giant megaphone to the wealthiest interests, and today it will consider turning up the volume even higher,” said Bryan Stewart, Program Associate at Ohio PIRG. “The last thing we need right now is to increase the giving of the donors with the deepest pockets. Rather, we should be empowering small donors so that ordinary Americans can provide the funds needed to run campaigns.”


Frank Matthews, Administration Director at Communications Workers of America said, “The laws currently say that Americas Millionaires have a limit of $123,200 dollars that can be given to politicians and or parties, that’s more than double the average median household income in our country, this amount is obscene… but it’s not enough to those that wish to buy our democracy.”


“The last thing our nation needs is another decision like Citizens United, opening up the floodgates to even more corrupting money from big polluters that will drown out the voices of the rest of us and wash away any remaining notion of accountability in our government,” said Jed Thorp, Chapter Manager, Sierra Club Ohio Chapter.


Despite the importance of the McCutcheon case to the future of American democracy, Bryan Stewart of Ohio PIRG noted its sparse coverage in Columbus area mainstream media. The Dispatch carried only AP coverage. The case was well covered by NPR and other national news outlets.


For those who want to become involved Move to Amend Central Ohio has its next scheduled monthly meeting at noon Saturday, October 19 at the first Unitarian Church at 93 W. Weisheimer Road just north of Henderson Road off of High Street. They have a number of activities and task forces for those who wish to contribute to the effort. The local organization will be supporting national Move to Amend in its “resist to amend” pledge to action if McCutcheon prevails.