Elections, Money and the First Amendment

There are many things wrong with American politics today. The electoral college, for one, is an outdated system that results in most of the electorate being completely ignored. If you’re from Ohio, your vote matters. Otherwise, the results are pretty well pre-determined.

But the electoral college pales in comparison to what I think is the biggest issue facing American democracy: money.

How could this be a problem?

Money makes America tick, but its influence in politics is corrosive and undemocratic. It is contrary to the principles of democracy that give every man and woman an equal voice in making the government. Put simply, billionaire Jamie Dimon (CEO of JPMorgan Chase) has more sway in deciding who runs the government and what policies get approved (and not approved) than you or I.

Yeah, this guy.

With great irony, the United States Supreme Court ruled that money is speech. If this doesn’t make sense to you, it’s because it doesn’t.

Look, Americans take free speech very seriously. It’s a value that is enshrined in the First Amendment, and one that the country will never relinquish. Which is great. And this ruling I’m referring to (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) was basically an interpretation of the First Amendment. The case determined that money is equivalent to free speech and that it would be unconstitutional to limit corporate campaign donations. This is the same constitution that maintains that corporations are people, but I digress…

Okay, I can see it now.

I’m no Supreme Court judge or constitutional expert, but this makes no sense to me. Money is not speech. Speech is speech. All this ruling did was to make it nearly impossible to have any limit on campaign contributions. Corporations are free to influence candidates and parties as much as they want.

How does that defend free speech? The reality is simply that the wealthiest people and businesses can influence politics, but regular individuals can’t. That limits free speech if anything. It limits the power of the majority of people and gives even greater power, voice and influence to the wealthiest elite.

“Haha, poor people.”

The First Amendment’s defense of free speech was designed to ensure that no person’s opinion would be stifled. But that’s exactly what now happens in American politics. The concerns and opinions of regular people do not matter nearly as much as corporations. Money talks.

And it’s not difficult to see the result. Corporate welfare is higher than welfare for the poor, and the middle class pay a higher tax rate than the wealthiest class. It is also impossible to implement a sensical universal health care system. Obamacare is a start at least, but it is still a watered down version that gives way too much power to private insurance companies.

The influence of money in politics is undemocratic and, in my humble and unprofessional opinion, unconstitutional as well.


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