McCutcheon v. FEC: The Supreme Court and the Decline of Democracy

Readers who have followed me for a while might remember my series of posts on what I called Corporatocracy, the rise of corporate power in our diminishing democracy.

In the world of corporatocracy, things just keep getting better. Today the Supreme Court ruled on a new case called McCutcheon v. FEC.

This case dealt with the constitutionality of placing limits on aggregate contributions to candidates in political campaigns. The aggregate limits were a cap on how much a person could spend on a particular election cycle. There are still (for the moment) limits on how much a contributor can give to an individual candidate. These kinds of limitations on campaign contributions have in the past been deemed constitutional because they serve the important public interest of prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption.

That seems to be less of a priority these days.

However, as Salon points out in its analysis of the ruling, “Without aggregate limits, one candidate, through the use of joint fundraising committees, could solicit contributions of more than $3.6 million — an amount more than 70 times the median family income in America — from a single donor.” Joint fundraising committees can increase the influence of the candidate who draws the most donations over their peers, even if they aren’t necessarily spending all of that money themselves. And candidate-to-candidate transfers can provide a way for politicians to dodge the individual contribution caps anyway.

If you’re not sure how increasing the amount that wealthy corporatists can donate to political candidates undermines democracy, here are just a couple of examples:

–       A recent study by UC Berkeley found that politicians in office are more likely to meet with donors than constituents

–       A Princeton study found that politicians “appear to be considerably more responsive to the opinions of affluent constituents.” The affluent receive more consideration than middle-class constituents, while “the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent statistical effect on their senators’ role call votes.” (Emphasis in original.)

–       The policy preferences of the wealthy (defined in this study as those with a yearly income of over $1 million) are very different from those of the middle class. Just one example: 78% of the American public believes that we should raise the minimum wage, compared to just 40% of the wealthy.


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