““Who are to be the electors of the federal representatives?”
The Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United vs FEC ruled that restricting campaign contributions violates the contributor’s First Amendment rights of free speech under the Constitution.
There were two sounds that came from that decision; one was a clarion bell that opened the checkbooks of those with much money, including corporations and individuals with loads of money. The other sound was the dull thud heard by those who at least sensed, if they did not see clearly, that the decision privileged those with money against those who have little or none.
Such matters are difficult for the general public to have detailed knowledge of, the Constitution itself being very clear and very obscure at the same time along with other details of how that new money could and could not be spent, but there was a common thread of understanding among those affected that there was a shift of power away from democracy under one man, one vote and that moneyed interest now have a greater chance of electing anyone they favor over others.
That instinctual response is consistent with at least the opinion of James Madison who wrote in the Federalist Papers #57 “Who are to be the electors of the federal representatives? Not the rich, more than the poor; not the learned, more than the ignorant; not the haughty heirs of distinguished names, more than the humble sons of obscurity and unpropitious fortune. The electors are to be the great body of the people of the United States. They are to be the same who exercise the right in every State of electing the corresponding branch of the legislature of the State.”
We have seen what the Citizens United decision brought us; hundreds of millions of dollars pumped into political action committees (PACs) to support favored candidates. That is a demonstration of the First Amendment right Citizens United protects but it can only be exercised by a small group of Americans who have such enormous financial resources and who use that right to support or attack candidates all over the US, not just in the district or state in which the donors live. Couple that ad buying advantage wealthy donors now have with a willingness to simply provide false facts about opposed or supported candidates and the election process becomes little more than a poker game with a stacked deck.
While the Supreme Court may very well have interpreted the Constitution accurately in its Citizens United decision regarding First Amendment rights it is clearly in contrast to what Madison writes and in the face of the common thread most believe; that we may have more or less resources than someone else but when it comes to electing officials we are all equal because we all have one vote. That common thread is critical to all Americans ability to feel empowered and dignified as a full participant in the Republic and it is that common thread that the Supreme Court has severed.
Why Government Openness Matters
By Lee H. Hamilton
“on most issues we’re better off if the American people know what’s going on.”
One of the fundamental lessons of the 9/11 tragedy was that our government carried a share of blame for the failure to stop the attacks. Not because it was asleep at the switch or ignorant of the dangers that Al Qaeda posed, but because the agencies charged with our safety did not share what they knew, either up and down the chain of command or with each other. The attacks were preventable with shared information.
Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.