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 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT