Founders gave us tools to limit big money in politics
Steven Livingston and W. Lance Bennett provide an insightful analysis of the efforts of obscenely wealthy Americans to avoid paying their fair share for the institutions and infrastructure that allowed them (or, in many cases, their forebears) to accumulate their vast fortunes (“Russia’s not so little election helpers,” Opinion, Sept. 14). Unfortunately, while long on explanation of the roots of the problem, the authors are short on solutions.
The Founders surely realized that they had hammered out a pretty good foundation for a viable republic. But they also realized the it would not survive and flourish without constant vigilance and effort by citizens. That’s why they included Article V — to provide us with ways to amend the Constitution to improve their original system of self-government. Indeed, we have amended the Constitution 27 times, to bring an end to slavery, give women the right to vote, eliminate poll taxes, allow young servicemen and women to vote, and make other pro-democracy improvements.
The dire circumstances described in Livingston and Bennett’s op-ed cry out for a 28th amendment to limit big money in politics and reserve constitutional rights for real people, not artificial incorporated entities. The Founders gave us the tools. Will we use them?
Clout of the wealthy has prevailed under both parties
In “Russia’s not so little election helpers,” Steven Livingston and W. Lance Bennett note the successful effort by a small cadre of wealthy libertarians to gain a disproportionate amount of power. The piece seems to suggest that if only the elements cited were held in check, we would have a government that would attend to shared goals such as universal health care, living wages, and serious measures to address climate change.
Unfortunately, the influence of money in politics is bipartisan. A study by Martin Gilens, a professor at Princeton University, and Benjamin I. Page, a professor at Northwestern University, found a strong correlation between what the most well off in our country wanted from the government and the legislation that was passed. There was no correlation with what average citizens wanted, regardless of which party held power. This situation was not the work of Russia. Years of neglect drove many citizens to mistrust the government.
To help achieve a government that works for all and has our confidence, we should amend the Constitution to establish that only human beings have constitutional rights and that political money is not speech. This is not the only fix needed, but it would go a long way.
Only an amendment can curb this influence
In their op-ed, Steven Livingston and W. Lance Bennett give an important description of the decades-long campaign by libertarian billionaires to create public support for a radical, individualistic free-market ideology.
The authors mention that the agenda of this “large organizational apparatus” that wealthy families and corporations created included packing the courts, but everyone should realize that they carried out an intricate legal strategy designed to be the linchpin to keep their power in place.
As documented in Jane Mayer’s book “Dark Money,” in 1997 Betsy DeVos was a founding board member and consistent funder of the James Madison Center for Free Speech, cofounded by Mitch McConnell, which masterminded the court battles ending in the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC. Thus enabled to spend unlimited funds from their billions to affect elections, these interests now control the reins of government to carry out their antidemocratic agenda.
We can try to aggregate our meager funds to elect officials who believe in a responsible society, but Congress cannot overrule the Supreme Court. Only a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United and related decisions can truly achieve democracy itself.