The birth of the American Oligarchy

Forget July 4th as a national holiday. Mark April 2nd on your calendars as a new holiday: The official birth of the American Oligarchy.

The Supreme Court handed down its decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, another campaign finance case aimed at eliminating limits on individual contributions to federal elections. The plaintiffs claimed that their First Amendment rights were being violated because they weren’t allowed to donate an endless stream of cash to their favorite politicians.

According to the New York Times, “…the court’s decision Wednesday in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission struck down as a violation of the First Amendment the aggregate limit of $123,200 that an individual could divide up among candidates and parties. Because such a limit would prevent Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman, from giving $1,776 to many Congressional candidates, and a bit more to a few others, it could not be justified as preventing corruption or its appearance.” The language regarding corruption prevention or appearance thereof came from the 1976 Court decision in Buckley v. Valeo, which basically stated that people could spend an infinite amount of money supporting themselves or purchasing advertising to advocate for their favorite candidate, but could only donate a limited amount to the campaign itself to prevent corruption or its appearance. The decision in McCutcheon essentially eliminated that limit. “There is no right more basic in our democracy,” Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote in the opening of his opinion for the court in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, “than the right to participate in electing our political leaders,” as quoted in the Times.

Score another victory for the 1% and the .01% in their never-ending quest to purchase our government piece by piece. And in the long run, the short run, and every other run, the only people who will benefit from this latest debacle of a decision are the wealthiest people in our country. I mean, who else can donate $100,000 to a political campaign and then complain that they wish they could have donated more?

SCOTUS has overlooked, either by accident or by design, the fact that this latest “expansion” of First Amendment rights for the wealthy in the form of allowing them to donate as much money as their oversized bank accounts can withstand is also limiting the First Amendment rights of Americans who can’t afford to donate large sums of money to political campaigns. By that very same token, the poorest Americans out there have essentially been stripped of any First Amendment rights related to campaign donations based simply on the fact that they cannot afford to make donations.

I suppose that this should be no surprise whatsoever. The last president to come from any sort of regular blue-collar background was Jimmy Carter. The last president to attend a non-Ivy League school was Ronald Reagan. According to Time, more than half of Congress is comprised of millionaires. According to the Center for Public Integrity, at least five of the nine Supreme Court Justices are millionaires as well.

The point behind all of these statistics is that our government is no longer occupied by what most of us would regard as “We the People.” It is occupied by the wealthiest members of society who are too easily convinced that other wealthy people are somehow inconvenienced by such nuisances as paying taxes or limits to campaign contributions. It would seem that their argument for smaller government and fewer rules only applies to any limitation that applies to their ability to buy the country and its government for a song.

Article I of the Constitution specifically forbids the United States’ government from granting any individual a title of nobility. The framers knew all too well the dangers of a society in which there was a ruling class of people who got to hang on to power simply by having the good fortune of being born to the right family. Decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon give the wealthiest 1% the next best thing: The ability to have undue influence in elections simply by virtue of being born in the right family or set of circumstances. In essence, this is tantamount to a title of nobility.

We all know this is wrong, and We the People need to do something about it before Tom Perkins and others of his ilk convince the government to allow them to have more votes because they pay more in taxes. (FYI, this is the way voting works in corporations; the more shares you own, the more votes you get.)

Some specific actions we can take is to petition our state governments to ask for a constitutional convention to propose an amendment requiring the public financing of elections. This is no small task, as 2/3 of state legislatures are required to request such a convention before on must be called, but it can be done. Failing in that, we could also demand that those elected leaders that represent us call for the same constitutional amendment, or face the possibility of losing the power they’ve so carefully gerrymandered their way into.

In the mean time, get the word out to as many people as you know that our government is no longer working for We the People, and is instead upholding the interests of We the 1%. By getting as many people behind this movement as possible, we can force the government to change its regressive policies that are taking us back to the Gilded Age. But, we need to act soon, before the rich go back to lighting their $1000 cigars with $100 bills to congratulate themselves on the hijacking of democracy.

A case to overturn DOMA and California’s Prop 8

By Dave Palmer

The Supreme Court seems to be recanting on their decision to hear oral arguments in what portends to be a landmark decision in the field of marriage equality, taking on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman for federal purposes, and California’s Proposition 8, which amends the California state constitution to state that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. The approval of the proposition overturned the California Supreme Court’s decision which provides that ruling of In re Marriage Cases that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. The Court seems doubtful of their authority to hear the Prop 8 case, and may in fact dismiss it.

Hey, SCOTUS! This isn’t a time for cold feet. This is a time for cold resolution to use the Constitution as a governing document for our country rather than a showpiece in the Library of Congress.

The history of our constitution has been one of expanding rights after we realized that limiting right for certain groups of people does not serve the cause of democracy. In every case, there has been those who approve of the proposed change and those who oppose. This time around, it seems to be religious types who are hurling their morality arguments as a reason to prevent homosexual couples from getting married against those who believe that the morality of a single religion should not serve as the basis of bigoted behavior.

Moral arguments aside, there are several protections provided in our Constitution that should make overturning DOMA and Prop 8 a no-brainer for the Supreme Court. Those protections can be found in Article IV, Section 1, the Ninth Amendment, and the Fourteenth Amendment.

Article IV, Section 1: “Full faith and credit shall be given to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.”

This lovely section of the Constitution states simply that all states must honor laws, contracts (such as a marriage), and legal decisions made in other states. Otherwise, states would not be required either heterosexual or homosexual marriages, along with divorces, work agreements, birth certificates, death certificates, and virtually any other legal document, or proceeding that one might have to take with them when they move, and needs to be honored in any state within our union. It also gives Congress the power to force non-compliant states to get their act together.

Amendment IX: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

Contained in the Bill of Rights, this amendment is often skipped on the way to the Tenth Amendment, which reserves powers not granted to the Federal Government, nor prohibited by it to the states and local governments. It is often cited whenever a state chooses to violate Article IV, Section 1 by passing a law that refuses to honor homosexual marriages from other states despite the fact that it does not supersede Article IV, Section 1 or the Fourteenth Amendment because those are powers reserved to the Federal Government.

Simply put, the Ninth Amendment provides that rights not listed in the Constitution are not the limitation of our rights. If society decides that homosexual couples deserve the same chance to get married as heterosexual couples, that would be a right that is retained by the people. In fact, several states have decided to allow homosexual couples to retain the right of marriage. I call on our Congress to nationalize that right.

Amendment XVI (Privileges and Immunities Clause): “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”

This is perhaps the strongest argument in favor of allowing homosexual couples to marry. As of now, there are only a handful of states that grant the privilege of marriage to homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. Some states go as far as to make laws that not only prevent homosexuals from getting marriage, they also refuse to acknowledge a legal marriage between homosexuals granted in another state. That is undoubtedly a flagrant violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges and Immunities Clause insomuch as they are making a law that refuses to grant the privilege of either getting married or being married to homosexual citizens of the United States.

There is simply no legal argument that can be used to argue against overturning DOMA and California’s Proposition 8. The only arguments surrounding this controversial issue come from a purely religious moral standpoint. If we are to uphold the First Amendment’s Establishment and Free Exercise Clause (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of a religion, or preventing the free exercise thereof) then we cannot allow any religious argument to have any sort of bearing on whether or not a specific group of people are allowed to have the same rights and privileges as everyone else. Homosexuals are freely exercising their beliefs in the same manner that heterosexuals are freely exercising theirs. No one has a set of rights that supersedes the rights of another citizen. Hopefully, the justices of the Supreme Court will realize this and use the Constitution to overturn DOMA and California’s Prop 8.