Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

With ruling, money talks even louder in politics

By Sally Kohn
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
A flag adorned with corporate logos and fake money flies at a rally against money in politics in front of the Supreme Court.
A flag adorned with corporate logos and fake money flies at a rally against money in politics in front of the Supreme Court.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. Supreme Court rules cap on aggregate amount of election donations is unconstitutional
  • Sally Kohn: This benefits people who have the most money to buy the most influence
  • Kohn: Money gives you disproportionately better access to Congress members and staff
  • Kohn: Massive amounts of money and lobbying overturns the will of Americans on issues

Editor's note: Sally Kohn is a CNN political commentator, progressive activist and columnist. Follow her on Twitter @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- On Wednesday, April 2, the United States Supreme Court ruled that any cap on the overall amount a person can spend to influence an election is unconstitutional. Following on the heels of the court's previous decision in Citizens United, the McCutcheon ruling will allow unlimited spending to influence our nation's political process.

In the words of Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the dissent in the McCutcheon case, the ruling "eviscerates our nation's campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve."

Sally Kohn
Sally Kohn

You shouldn't need money or connections to get a fair shake in our justice system. That's the very essence of our American creed. And yet we know that even with previous restrictions, money had a corrupting influence on our democracy. A Federal Election Survey found that 82% of Americans were worried about special interests buying elections. Three in five Americans thought Congress was already more likely to vote in ways that please their financial supporters, while only one in five Americans thought Congress votes in the best interest of constituents.

Several studies find money gives you access to members of Congress and their staff: Contributors have disproportionately better access. And these studies were conducted before the McCutcheon decision, when the total donations to candidates, parties or PACs within an election cycle were still limited at a whopping $123,000.

This decision benefits those who have that kind of money, not the everyday campaign contributor. The court upheld the law that puts a $5,200 cap on conventional individual contributions to a single candidate.

Sky's the limit for political donations
Justices strike down donor limit

But without the $123,000 overall limit, imagine how much worse it will be when a single wealthy donor can contribute $3.5 million to a political party and its candidates. What we have politely called "influence" up until now will become nothing short of bribery.

It's hard enough to get the people's will through Congress as is. As is, 90% of Americans want stronger gun safety laws and yet gun-industry political contributions hobble legislative momentum.

And 72% of voters want to raise the minimum wage -- including a majority of Republicans -- but campaign spending and lobbying by the low-wage fast food and retail industry is stymieing progress in Congress there as well.

More than half of Americans want the federal government to limit power plant emissions and take other steps to curb climate change, moves opposed by the wealthy — and politically generous — oil and gas industry. On issue after issue after issue, the will of the American people is already up against the often-insurmountable obstacles created by well-heeled corporations armed with campaign contributions. And now it's just going to get worse. An analysis by the organization Demos found that the McCutcheon ruling could release more than $1 billion in additional election spending from wealthy donors through 2020.

The community activist group CREDO Action has launched a campaign to send NASCAR-like judge robes covered in corporate sponsorship logos to the five Supreme Court justices who voted for Citizens United and now the McCutcheon decision. Instead of protecting the marginalized and disenfranchised in America, the five conservative justices have manipulated our Constitution to create new rights and give even more power to our nation's wealthiest individuals and corporations.

In 1816, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "I hope that we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country." But rather, thanks in part to the Supreme Court ruling in McCutcheon, it is now we the people who have been definitively crushed. As has our democracy.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:47 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
updated 5:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
updated 6:21 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
updated 5:39 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
updated 7:12 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT