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Reader comments 4-4-14

Democracy to the highest bidders

Dear Editor:

Whatever your political persuasion—left, right or center—we should all be concerned about the corrosive influence of big money in politics.

Over a hundred years ago, Teddy Roosevelt had to struggle with political bosses to get elected and pass reforms. Today’s real political bosses are the billionaires who spend even larger sums to influence our political parties, debate and elections. 

On April 2, the Roberts court continued with their sixth (and 5-to-4) decision allowing the selling of our democracy to the highest bidder (with the theory that unlimited political contributions are protected free speech).

In this week’s case, McCutcheon vs. FEC, billionaires were given the green light to buy influence across any number of our federal candidates. The funding and influence peddling of American politics has already taken a sharp turn toward super PACs (many with secret donors) and needing even more money from the rich. 

According to CNN, between 1986 and 2012, the average cost of winning election to the house of representatives grew from $360,000 to $1,600,000—a 344 percent increase. And US senate campaigns require over $10,000,000 on average.

Under the court rulings, this need for each candidate to raise millions of dollars has just taken another step toward wealthy donors. Practically speaking, only the rich or their friends need consider running for federal office and we can expect most candidates will need to thank their wealthy donors with access and influence.

The current laws and tax structures already favor the rich and destroy opportunity for working and poor Americans.  With the doubling of wealth concentration since 1980 (today the top one percent own more than 40 percent of America, up from 19 percent), the court’s rulings mean that a few thousand Americans now exercise more monetary “free speech” in politics than the other 310 million of our citizens combined.

The rich will express their “free speech” rights to help choose who gets on our ballot and can logically expect their favored status to be furthered by the officials they supported. 

With these court decisions, only a constitutional amendment can restore meaningful political contribution limits and our expectations that elected members of congress could pay attention to ordinary citizens instead of spending much of their time currying favor with the richest donors.  

Without such an amendment, your voice in our democracy gets weaker, as the wealthy few will dominate our political processes.

Mel Boynton

Claremont

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