On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck a limit on the total amount individuals can donate to political campaigns. In a hastily organized protest, about a half-dozen people held placards at one of Plattsburgh’s busiest intersections.
The hastily organized protest brought together students and community organizers at rush hour. They held signs saying “Democracy Can’t be Bought,” “Our Democracy Is Not for Sale” and “We the People Not the Rich.” Student organizer Adrian Arrivillaga explained that it was part of a nationwide protest by Public Citizen to fight money in politics. “Increasingly big corporations and wealthy individuals are taking over our democracy by gaining more power to spend money on our elections and the effects are devastating for our economy and for our rights.”
People for Positive Action chair Mary Alice Shemo says the court’s decision adds to the damage caused by 2010’s Citizens United ruling that determined corporations are people in terms of campaign donations. “Citizens United did a lot of damage. And this is like Citizens United 2.0. It was bad enough to have the big corporations be able to spend without limit. Now to have wealthy individuals like the Koch’s and Sheldon Adelson and a few other people spend without limit just makes it worse.”
The group distributed information leaflets to passersby as drivers honked in agreement.
But Betty Lennon isn’t certain most people truly comprehend the ramifications of the high court’s ruling. “Money is buying elections. Look in New York, we couldn’t even get the public financing law passed here when the governor had promised and then he did away with the Moreland Commission. People are so apathetic I’m not sure that they realize what is happening. If we can’t have fair elections, what are we?”
SUNY Plattsburgh Senior Jesse Chandler was participating and holding a sign, but hadn’t seen the latest Supreme Court decision. “The main thing that brought me here was the last election. All that I could see in the election was money. What I would love to see are representatives who are not puppets, to have representatives that we elect that are not bribed into positions.”
Chandler admits that the flood of money in politics has affected whether he goes to the polls. “One thing I’m trying to figure out personally is whether I should ever vote. I didn’t vote in the last election. It seems more of a hype-fest than legitimate politics.”
Vermont’s Congressional delegation has been advocating strengthening campaign finance rules.
Congressman Peter Welch, a Democrat, posted a brief statement on his Facebook page following the decision, saying the court has made a bad situation worse. “We cannot have our democracy dominated by the size of someone’s paycheck. This Supreme Court is setting back democratic participation on its heels.”
Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Citizens United ruling. Shortly after this McCutcheon v. FEC Decision, Sanders warned of its potential to allow billionaires and control of the election process. “We have got to be very, very careful that we do not allow this great country, where people fought and died to protect American democracy to become a plutocracy or an oligarchy. And that, frankly, is the direction in which we are moving.”
In the 5-4 ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts was joined by justices Scalia, Kennedy and Alito in concluding that the aggregate limits are invalid under the First Amendment. In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the court's conservatives have "eviscerated our nation's campaign finance laws."