McCutcheon: Should the rich speak louder?

April 3, 2014

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court handed down its most important decision on campaign finance reform since Citizens United. The decision, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, seemed to divide along familiar ideological lines, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the majority opinion for five conservatives and Justice Stephen Breyer, writing the dissent for the four liberals.

What really divided the court, however, wasn’t partisan politics pitting Republicans against Democrats but two conflicting views of the First Amendment. Which view you embrace depends on whether you see the McCutcheon decision as a principled triumph for unpopular speech or a First Amendment disaster that will ensure that a handful of the richest Americans can use their vast resources to drown out the voices of everyone else.

The First Amendment view embraced by Roberts and his conservative colleagues is rooted in individual liberty. There’s no right in our democracy more fundamental, Roberts began, than the First Amendment safeguards for “an individual’s right to participate in the public debate through political expression and political association.”

People exercise both these rights when contributing to candidates, Roberts said, whether they are a “lone pamphleteer” or someone who spends “substantial amounts of money.” He maintains that Congress may not “restrict the political participation of some in order to enhance the relative influence of others.”

The First Amendment that Breyer and the liberal dissenters embrace is far different. Breyer objected that Roberts’s focus on “the individual’s right to engage in political speech” fails to account for “the public’s interest in preserving a democratic order in which collective speech matters.”

Breyer explained that crucial civic discourse can be overwhelmed by the inequalities of wealth. “Where enough money calls the tune,” Breyer wrote,” the general public will not be heard.” That’s why he stressed “the constitutional importance of Congress’ con­cern that a few large donations not drown out the voices of the many.”

Both views of the First Amendment are plausible. They point, however, in very different directions. Roberts insisted that individual free expression and association is so important that only evidence of quid pro quo corruption — for example, trading votes for money — can justify limiting it. Breyer’s emphasis on collective political participation led him to fault the court for defining corruption too narrowly, and ignoring the Founders’ concern that representatives are responsive to all of “We the People” — not just the wealthy few.

What’s significant about this debate is that neither Roberts nor Breyer denied that the contributions of the wealthy few have the potential to drown out the voices of the less wealthy many.

But Roberts insisted that the First Amendment doesn’t allow Congress to address the problem by requiring the wealthy to turn down the volume. He said Congress instead must use alternatives to restricting speech — such as disclosure laws — that critics say are ineffective or unrealistic.

A similarly surprising consensus emerged Wednesday in a debate about the McCutcheon decision between Floyd Abrams, the leading civil libertarian liberal defender of Citizens United and the Roberts view of free speech, and Lawrence Lessig, the leading crusader against what he calls the “dependence corruption” that makes candidates dependent on their richest donors to the exclusion of everyone else.

Abrams agreed with Lessig that “wealthy people have the power to communicate much more than people who don’t have money.” This influence can come in two ways: the voices of the wealthy can influence the public debate by paying for a barrage of ads or push polls more than those who can’t afford ads and push polls while at the same time, because money buys access and influence, candidates are likely to pay more attention to their most generous contributors.

Abrams disagreed only with Lessig’s proposed solution — limiting spending by the rich to reduce their likelihood of influencing elections or candidates. Inequality of wealth is a social problem, Abrams said, but “a core lesson of the First Amendment is that we deal with social problems at our best in ways that don’t limit freedom of expression” — such as changing the tax or anti-trust laws.

Lessig, like Breyer, countered that far from forbidding efforts to prevent the rich few from drowning out the voices of the less rich many, the First Amendment requires it. “The majority opinion,” Lessig said, “is contrary to the idea of creating a democracy where the government is responsive to the people. He continued, “A conception of corruption that doesn’t allow Congress to achieve the objections of representative democracy” — where Congress is dependent on all the people not just the rich — violates the Framers’ original understanding.

Lessig and Abrams, whose debate was hosted by the National Constitution Center, agreed that the McCutcheon decision would be unpopular with a majority of Americans. But, Abrams insisted, this is the price of the First Amendment.

Roberts made a similar point in his majority opinion. “If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests and Nazi parades — despite the profound offense such spectacles cause — it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition,” he said.

Those who oppose the Supreme Court decisions striking down campaign finance reform but support First Amendment protections for unpopular speech need to respond to Roberts’ and Abrams’ challenge It is not enough to say these decisions undermine elections because the voices of the powerful few drown out the voices of the less powerful many — since neither conservatives nor liberals dispute that.

The stronger response is that the speech of the rich has the potential to make the people’s representatives less dependent on the people themselves. The Framers of the First Amendment might well have concluded that far from forbidding Congress’s efforts to make government more responsive to all the people, the Constitution requires it.


To listen to the National Constitution Center’s podcast debate about the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision, click here.


PHOTO (Top): The Supreme Court building seen in Washington, May 20, 2009. REUTERS/Molly Riley

PHOTO (Insert 1): Chief Justice John Roberts listens to arguments from George Washington University law students during a moot court competition in Washington, Feb. 9, 2006. REUTERS/Jim Young

PHOTO (Insert 2): Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer (L) and Antonin Scalia testify before a House Judiciary Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 20, 2010. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque


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Should Union members be compelled to make political contributions with which they may not agree? The rich prohibited from spending their money any way they choose? Donors and students at UCB and Harvard, who contributed almost $2 million to Barak Obama’s 2012 campaign and none to Romney’s(so much for objectivity).
I support campaign limits for all, not just the rich. Failing that, First Amendment rights rule.

Posted by Zaichik | Report as abusive

Conservative court = bad decisions.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Welcome to the oligarchy… The rest of us may as well fold up the tents and just accept the fate that the sub-1% deem as appropriate.

Posted by GreaterGood | Report as abusive

Zaichk asks: “Should Union members be compelled to make political contributions with which they may not agree?”

So quit the union if you don’t who they give their money to. Just like I am free to quit Hobby Lobby because they donate to Right-wing religious nut jobs.

This ruling has nothing to do with that, however. Please read the articles. The ruling is on donation limits from any group or individual. The conservative judges on the Supreme Court have effectively banned any future efforts by Congress to place limits on themselves. Why would they do that?

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

it is just a matter of logic, and the pattern of votes for money that has been the underlying norm for congress via lobbyists’ influence.

money does by influence, and the more money given, the closer the recipient will listen to — and abide by — the wishes of the donor in order to keep the cash flow coming.

there is an evident lack of empathy for the poor and working class through the eyes of the wealthy. and the wealthy will NOT, under any circumstances, allow their wealth to be distributed or lessened through legislation that benefits the lower classes.

the fact that america’s largest corporations are sitting on a cash hoard — in offshore tax havens like Ireland, Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, et al — totaling in the hundreds of billions of dollars (see Apple, Google & Microsoft), stalling job creation by not reinvesting this wealth back into the american economy, is a stark reminder of how the preservation of wealth trumps all other considerations. capitalism is based on the principles of wealth and free enterprise, and america is the capitalist capital of the world.

when you have a candidate like romney, sitting is a room of the ultra-elite, dismissing the 47% of americans who are the working poor, middle class, and poor to his benefactors, that was an eye-opening moment into the true feelings of the ultra-elite toward 150 million american citizens not sharing in their privileged means.

the privileged few have throughout history abused and exploited the majority beneath them. this is why we initially saw the creation of unions — to protect workers from deadly working conditions in factories, mines, shipyards, etc. across the country that put profit before the lives and safety of their employees.

throughout history, we have seen uprisings against ruling monarchs and rulers who have repressed the masses.

it is in the nature of those with wealth to accrue more wealth, and to protect their investments. they will stop at nothing to ensure the continuance of their privileged means, even at the disadvantage and exploitation of the majority.

absolute power corrupts absolutely. regardless of the interpretations of the first amendment, human nature is infused with greed. and that greed, whether it is stemming from the lawmakers themselves, or those with massive stockpiles of wealth who lobby them, that will dictate policies to protect their interests.

the SCOTUS has used the letter of the constitution to defeat the spirit of the constitution, and the safeguards our founding fathers put in place to protect the majority against the tyranny of the few.

sadly, those protections are gone, and congress will continue the culture of corruption unimpeded — and the bodies they establish to investigate themselves will find no fault in this or expose the depth of their greed.

we the people, have now been reduced to a footnote. the citizens united and the mccutcheon rulings have further eroded any chance for a restoration of trust, faith and integrity into the american political system.

Posted by tatman | Report as abusive

I’m a literate man. I have a hard time seeing how anyone can believe the text of the First Amendment requires the government to muzzle some people so that others can be better heard.

The dissents opinion strikes me as a post hoc rationalization to reach their favored political outcome. I agree with Abrams, It’s not a great outcome, but the constitution doesn’t exist to guarantee great outcomes, it exists to guarantee rights.

Posted by EndlessIke | Report as abusive

I’m fine with political contributions being treated as free speech. But if a contributor realizes even an indirect material benefit from how an elected representative votes, both the contributor and rep should be sent tried and sent to prison.

Posted by diluded0000 | Report as abusive

Social networking technology is soon going to make this entire discussion moot. The rich represent a minority that has disproportionate control over the vast majority of the earths people. It’s really just a matter of years now before that unjust imbalance becomes rectified. There’s a reckoning coming.

Posted by stambo2001 | Report as abusive

Does the constitution really guarantee the right of the very rich people to govern as they see fit even to the detriment of the middle class and poor?

Posted by Lkeavey | Report as abusive

The Middle Class is NOT represented in the USA. We have most of congress bought and paid for by big business, who pays for their campaigns and gives continuous donations, promises million dollar jobs after congress. The rest of congress buys votes with fear and benefits: “All Whites are racist, but we will protect you from them and give you free benefits”.

Posted by yurgonetmyshet | Report as abusive

are we looking at the dictatorship of the wealthy?

I think so.

How about impeachment proceedings? Don’t think that would be allowed by our politicians – they are in line for major upgrades in their purchase prices.

Posted by Swisswatch | Report as abusive

What can we expect from a court led by an idiot who thinks that one of the Supreme Court’s primary duties is to find ways to uphold the constitutionality of laws enacted by Congress?

Posted by JRTerrance | Report as abusive

This decision is perfectly logical. We are a plutocratic authoritarian society that gives ONLY social freedoms. We do not have any political freedom. Democrats and Republicans are part of the same party, the capitalist party. And any individual deemed a threat to the capitalist system is always silenced, sometimes by force if necessary.

Posted by KyleDexter | Report as abusive

Now here is a budget that intentionally goes out of it’s way to destroy the poor and middle class. If the GOP.TEA passes this “hate” monstrosity they will hand the democrats a huge talking point.Pitifully it is not even enough for many of the GOP members. Why? It dos not enable the rich to take even more.This Robert’s court must love it.

Posted by Lkeavey | Report as abusive

“But Roberts insisted that the First Amendment doesn’t allow Congress to address the problem by requiring the wealthy to turn down the volume. He said Congress instead must use alternatives to restricting speech — such as disclosure laws — that critics say are ineffective or unrealistic.”

It’s the disclosure laws that a flaunted that truly corrupt the process. You can condemn the Koch’s, Soros’, PAC’s and unions, but you can track them down and enforce the laws.

A significant issue still remains, all of the money and foreign credit card transactions that Clinton and Obama captured during their election programs. Remember when Obama committed to not taking outside funds when running against McCain, but then “changed his mind” when he understood the impact of that decision. And he never fully accounted for all the funding that came in from overseas.

Perhaps we need a law where the candidate is removed from

Posted by COindependent | Report as abusive

Again I ask, who is the puggly lardo on the front picture. Is there some purpose to showing such a soft and obviously overfed mushball as the front picture to this article?

We know that the dems are just as facist as the GOP, however to keep everyone from knowing it, they continue to appoint liberals to the court, so this ruling does one outstanding thing. It requires that anyone who cares about democracy vote to get a democrat into the whitehouse in the next election. Otherwise, the facism will continue, with the court sanctioning it. Oh sure, the oil/war/drugs system of wealth accumulation will continue, but at least it will have to battle a few liberal judges.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

I think it has spoken and made its way well into the justice department.

Posted by Mott | Report as abusive

1. By singling out wealthy people, aren’t you saying that one group’s speech should be treated differently from that of others?
2. In 08 and 12, Obama was badly outspent and won anyway. In 08 his average donation was less that a hundred bucks.
3. Lot of media are free. We’re using one now, aren’t we?
4. Make sunshine laws part of the package and the progs have to cede the point. If GHW Bush gets Moonie money, why shouldn’t we know? Secret donations aren’t fraud: but they may as well be.

Posted by Bagehot | Report as abusive

Simple answer: If you are a person that complains about the 1%, then that makes YOU part of the 99%. Get it? Votes trump money. Now, if only you/we 99%’ers can agree on something…..

Posted by Zaphoid | Report as abusive

9/11 is bipartisan issue

Posted by satori23 | Report as abusive

If money = speech, maybe Lockheed Martin will accept a speech in lieu of further cash payments on the trillion-dollar F-35 program. Worth a shot.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

He [Roberts] maintains that Congress may not “restrict the political participation of some in order to enhance the relative influence of others.”

And isn’t unlimited amounts of money in elections or to lobbyists enhancing the relative influence of others, i.e. the wealthy while restricting the average voter?!?

Posted by Andvari | Report as abusive

Since the common Americans have become totally helpless to elect majority of the candidates that will remain loyal to us and not the richest, and our supreme court’s decisions have just helped only the rich and the big corporation, all of us common Americans should bycott all state and federal elections until the congress represents all of us. And, freedom of speech by the rich (bought pundits and TV channels) must also be equal to and not exceed the freedom of speech by the common Americans (just a little comment in a good newspaper, or a few second soundbite, which they can rarely get) i.e., we must take money out of politics, if we want to call our system a true representative democracy.

Posted by justbefair | Report as abusive

“a handful of the richest Americans can use their vast resources to drown out the voices of everyone else.”

If 1% of a crowd is shouting at the top of their lungs; they are going to be drowned out by the murmuring of the remaining 99%.

Posted by walstir | Report as abusive

Let them spend their billions.

Vote for the Independent candidate. The other 2 have been contaminated by $$$$ and thus already owe “Favors”.

Posted by SaveRMiddle | Report as abusive

More money will be directed to unproductive purposes, except for lining the pockets of lobbyists and enhancing the influence and advantage of already rich donors. Same people who decry waste in government, such as modest benefits that are quickly injected into the real economy.
This merry-go-round will pick up speed until it comes off its foundations, I’d guess.

Posted by Oldbizeditor | Report as abusive

As the media begins collecting ever-larger amounts for the political meanderings of a few, is it not more likely that the press who we rely on to keep the spenders honest will be muzzled by their own employers? How is this decision not allowing the press’s objectivity to be purchased at some point?

Posted by auger | Report as abusive

No one should be surprised by this. As long as the Supreme Court has a conservative majority, rulings will always favor the extremely rich and their corporations. Our government has been taken from us, bought by a relatively small group of corporatists whose primary objective is wealth. They will sacrifice people, our nation, and our planet to maximize their wealth. And that is their goal, the maximization of wealth.

Whenever this issue is raised in a political forum somebody will inevitably cry “class warfare” and people tend to back down. I say we embrace class warfare. We, the people, are not the ones who started this war. Our participation wasn’t by choice. The wealthy plutocrats are draining every bit of cash that’s available, and they’re doing it by any means necessary. It’s getting almost impossible for an average American to reach the end of his or her life with any money left. It’s by design.

Look at our healthcare. Ours is by far the most expensive in the world, and the results are average at best. We are the only country where people are filing for bankruptcy because they can’t afford their medical bills, over a million every year. Millions of Americans go without adequate healthcare because of cost. We elect a President who promises reform and you’d think it was the end of the world. It’s a good example of what we’re up against. We’ve allowed ourselves to be convinced that our healthcare woes are an inevitable part of capitalism, you have to take the bad with the good. But that’s a typical tactic used by the corportists. They convinced the masses that our healthcare problems are a natural extension of the free market and if you want to blame anyone, blame the government. Why the government? Just because it’s an easy target and the corportists want our government to be as weak as possible. Our government is the only entity powerful enough to stand in the corportists’ way. So part of their goal is to weaken the US government, to weaken our government and to control it. They’ve done a pretty good job of both. And who does our healthcare system hurt? Everyone except the very wealthy, those who developed it. Healthcare costs? Not a problem. Cost is never a problem when you’re a billionaire.

There will be some who try to write me off as just being envious of the rich, but don’t buy that. I’m not. For one, I have everything I need. But also I have nothing against the rich. In fact, those who came by it honestly and ethically, I applaud them. I’m not anti-capitalism. I’m opposed to the way the United States practices capitalism. The US capitalist system is designed to make wealth the primary objective. I contend that any system should have a goal of benefiting the most people. Communism fails at that, as does our form of free market capitalism. For capitalism to work for the best interests of the people, it needs to be regulated. And, yes, sometimes regulations get in the way of the maximization of profits, but that shouldn’t be a problem if the goal is to benefit the people, and not just to make a few extremely wealthy.

We know our government is corrupt. We know it’s been bought out. Now we have to figure out what we’re going to do about it. And it has to come from us. It won’t come from our government. We have to take responsibility for our Republic. And if it means taking to the streets, then so be it.

Posted by carnivalchaos | Report as abusive

Disclose all political and lobbying money given. Give as much as you want everyone to see. No Dark Money. Public disclosure of all Corporate political and lobbying money no exceptions. All political and lobbying monies received should be taxed at the corporate rate. If you want to play, you should have pay your old Uncle, no problem, after all you are giving it away.

Posted by Amwatching2c | Report as abusive

This article would have merit if only the rich won elections, but alas the wealthy Republican party has been loosing like the Buffalo Bills… aren’t even competitive any more.

Posted by excelsiorrog | Report as abusive

Money is not “speech.” I repeat, money is not “speech.” Don’t believe me? Consult the nearest dictionary.

But more to the point, consider a recent report aired on National Public Radio about the impossibility of meeting with your Congressman (or woman) if you are merely an “average” American and not one who has donated money. From the transcript:

David Broockman of the University of California, Berkeley, and Joshua Kalla at Yale University, teamed up to conduct a little experiment last summer. They sent emails to 191 members of Congress, asking for a meeting to discuss a chemical-banning bill. All the messages were identical, except for two words. One email template asked the lawmaker to meet with, quote, “local campaign donors.” The other asked the lawmaker to meet with local constituents. Guess which email got more meetings?

So the offices who just thought they were being asked to meet with normal constituents, we almost never got a meeting with a member of Congress, or a chief of staff or a legislative director, the most powerful people in congressional offices. On the other hand, when we reveal that the attendees were donors, they were more than three times as likely to get those meetings.

If this isn’t a clear example of the “quid pro quo” that Roberts alluded to but blindly ignored, then I don’t know what else would be. This was a terrible decision by the SCOTUS, and the rest of us in the 99% will be stuck with shoddy candidates and single-issue races defined by plutocratic interests forever more. Buh-bye to the last remnants of our representative democracy.

Posted by mercurius_1 | Report as abusive

I agree with most of the above and they are all “speaking” and not using money to make this expression pointless. As soon as we are too poor to keep PCs in our homes we will all realize what happened to our rights to free speech. This machine and forum is already a substitute for political action and I’m too old and poor to do much of that anyway.

There is no point now for anyone with a smallish income donating to the party or candidate of their choice. How can the SCOTUS ignore that one small donation by an individual is somehow the same strength as one enormous – billion dollar donation to a party by one major corporation or a few by major individual donors. The two expressions of will, in the form of free speech, are not nearly the same strength. One is barely a whisper while the other can deafen all the people in the room. Millions of whispers in little more than the sound of the wind while the billion dollar “speech” may be the only audible and understandable message. The affirming justices are willfully lying to themselves. They also choose to ignore how much murderous hatred and uncompromising desire to control there is behind voter preferences. Comments in Reuters threads alone sometimes give a hint of that problem. This country is not full of reasonable people even when they are wealthy. The wealthy can be some of the most uncompromising SOB’s you are likely to meet but they have better manners and usually have some self control so don’t get themselves arrested most of the time.

The SCOTUS killed democracy (and it hasn’t been very well nor will this decision really change anything – it is already here) as surely as the Senate killed the republic with the “election” of Augustus Caesar. The SCOTUS also killed itself because the government will be bought – including them eventually – by money and powers not restricted to these shores. WE and they be trippin.

All you can do as a voter is shop till you drop, and your participation on political action is for therapeutic reasons only. Rather like writing these silly opinions on public forums.

But doesn’t the corpse look pretty and it’s even getting a face lift? The empire had all the better buildings and decorations and life was never so sweet. That’s what the visitor sees when visiting the forum. He doesn’t see the periodic slaughter of the Senate and the aristocratic families and their supporters at the will of the whisper. That’s until it’s decadence (no one uses the word now and that should worry us) really took its toll on them and the empire was so weakened it was ripe for the kill. All things must pass and the SCOTUS just wrote the death certificate.

BTW – I think OOTS may have died. He was well into his 80s’s. He’s lucky. But if either of us had a lot more money and could throw it around like Zuckerberg,(he was a millionaire and I live on foodstamps for a while) we would have probably been so antagonistic we would easily have bought senators and even SC justices if we had the time.

It isn’t healthy to let politics suck up too much money. The anxiety levels will go through the ceiling until the whole contest breaks out into civil war.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

While I don’t like the idea or outcome of unfettered “political” speech, I do think this is the right decision under the Constitution. Individuals control our government through their power to vote. The minority opinion is saying is that individuals are too stupid to see through these ads and polls purchased by the wealthy to influence their vote. If that is indeed the case, it is not up to the SCOTUS to muzzle this political speech. It is up to the individuals to make sure they are educated about their government representatives and vote accordingly. The majority opinion reflects the notion that individuals be allowed to make up their own mind, even if they do so poorly. I like to refer to that as freedom.

Posted by Whatabigmess | Report as abusive

Free speech, isn’t free – if you have to pay cash for it.

Posted by Overcast451 | Report as abusive

Wonder how the “Majority” would discuss admissions by Congress, “I spend half my time fund raising for next elections”. Supposedly in La-La Land of Court, that massive money will not corrupt?

I seriously doubt that money was considered a 1st Right by the founders, nothing in founders documents/great documents suggests neither purchase of elected is Free Speech, nor for that matter nothing anywhere indicated “corporations are people”.

SCOUS has the luxury to feel money will not corrupt, nor the reality the very wealth that purchases the elected, has it’s “Core business” of wealth via favorable directed legislation, not business practices, nor competition. One only need read selected extracts from tax code to verify the latter on single issue codes.

So this “land of Elected representing”, for, by and of the people, blah, blah, has become a historical bad joke. Goes right along with the fraud of “Vote Fraud laws” based on lies, horrifically applied in USA to disenfranchise voters. We have growing economic gap worse then many second/third world banana republics. So

Mr Roberts and friends, seems not only did you “break it” but it appears put USA on sale. My only recommendation for those determined to make us a indentured society, a plantation nation of the owners and “others” mocking us by enabling sale of USA a “free speech”, since most of you ever served nation, and do not now as decision provides, do not walk near the many veterans cemetery’s during the dark hours, you may hear many voices crying out, “We served and gave all for this final corruptions, your flag is greed, your destiny is todestroy USA, our souls weep”

Posted by chuck2 | Report as abusive

In America, money is the only thing that talks.

Posted by yrbmegr | Report as abusive

So many generous people, with only the very best of intentions for myself and my family, speaking on my needs as if I need to be defended, by way of “their” government. Free is a word that cannot be grasped if you are constantly thinking of what is right and best for me. Allow me my right to ask you politely to turn around, take the hand out of my pocket from what I have earned by my hand, and walk out of sight.

Posted by ANZUS | Report as abusive

ANZUS: Then kindly take you car off our roads, your children out of our schools, stop use of the electricity from our grids, and no longer purchase goods that are shipped to and unloaded at our ports.

Posted by carnivalchaos | Report as abusive

I do believe they overlooked something. The origin of how, where and when a candidate is chosen to compete for elected office. An oversight that I think is the fundamental aspect of any election.

They forgot that humans are flawed and the aspect of corruption of the foundation of elections, candidates, is going to be compromised.

Posted by mstan4408 | Report as abusive

Paintcan: I think you have hit upon something re: anxiety levels. Recent research has shown the US to have disproportionately high anxiety levels. Other research suggests that the more a population is backed in to an ideological corner having practical impact on well being, the more likely a population will cling to a counterproductive ideologue ( I believe NK has been cited as an example). It seems counter-intuitive to us, but apparently the higher the stakes the more we we will defend incorrect assumptions. We feel we cannot afford to have been wrong.

But anxiety leads to shorter fuses. If a population feels closed in upon, that they cannot exercise political clout to effect change, if they are pressed more and more at work, at the bank and at the store, we risk that the frustration levels spill over. I think we are seeing this I these comment threads. My fear is that the continued erosion of the collective voice, and the granting of volume based on monied interests, will exacerbate the frustration. McCutcheon raises the volume for some voices and squashes others based on criteria of which the Founding Fathers were quite suspicious. A group backed into a wall has little incentive to cooperate.

Please stay with us , Paintcan. I hope you are wrong about OOTS. When he isn’t angry, his posts are clearly Articulated, and while I disagree with him more than I agree, he is one of the more thought-provoking posters here.

Posted by Heyoka | Report as abusive

The issue is corruption, or privileged access to politicians after making a contribution to them or their party. This money cannot be stopped, not with this SCOTUS lineup. However, the link between the money and the name of the person who gave the money is not privileged or a right. Answer: Require all political contributions to any federal representative to be anonymous, filtered through an agency (such as the IRS which distributes presidential campaign contributions volunteered on tax forms). You want to give congressman or Presidential candidate XXX some money, submit an IRS form, with your SocSec number, the name of the candidate. DONE. You’ve spoken, monetarily, no one has stopped you from making this contribution HOWEVER, the reward of access and the inherent corruption of KNOWING who gave you money is gone. With this system we can all call our congressmen and say we gave them the money they received from the IRS, how can they know it wasn’t us? Any Congressman who recieves money outside this system would be arrested for attempted corruption and selling influence. Got any better idea?

Posted by AvidHistorian | Report as abusive

The USA has always been ruled by capital, all arguments to the contrary are either intentionally deceptive or delusional. The current court is simply allowing the pigeons to roost and cooing alongside them. The constitution is elitist and parasitic and designed that way; based on slavery to begin with.

Posted by wilhelm | Report as abusive

The Richest Presidents Of All Time – Inflation Adjusted:

#1: George Washington – $525 Million (Owned 8000 acres of Virginia farmland and 300 slaves)
#2: Thomas Jefferson – $212 million (Owned 5000 acres of Virginia farmland plus dozens of slaves)
#3: Theodore Roosevelt – $125 million (Inherited large trust fund and more than 200 acres of land in Long Island)
#4: Andrew Jackson – $120 million (Real estate, 300 slaves, inheritance plus married into money)
#5: James Madison – $100 million (Owned 5000 acres of Virginia farmland and dozens of slaves)
#6: John F. Kennedy – $100 million (Father Joseph was worth $1 billion from liquor importation, real estate and more)
#7: Lyndon B. Johnson – $100 million (Owned a radio and TV station plus a 1500 acre ranch in Texas)
#8: Bill Clinton – $80 million (Bill’s net worth was jut $700k on his first day in office. Since re-entering private life, Bill has earned more than $100 million from speaking engagements alone. He also has made a fortune from book sales)
#9: Herbert Hoover – $75 million (Made millions in the mining industry, owned millions in valuable real estate)
#10: Franklin Delano Roosevelt – $60 million (Inherited millions, owned hundreds of acres of valuable real estate on the East Coast)
#11: John Tyler – $50 million (Owned thousands of acres of tobacco plantations)
#12: George W. Bush – $35 million (Texas Rangers, oil investments, stocks, book sales and speaking engagements)
#13: James Monroe – $30 million
#14: Martin Van Buren – $25 million
#15: George H. W. Bush – $25 million
#16: Grover Cleveland – $25 million
#17: John Adams – $20 million
#18: John Quincy Adams -$20 million
#19: Richard Nixon – $15 million
#20: Ronald Reagan – $13 million
#21: Barack Obama – $12 million
#22: James K. Polk – $10 million
#23: Dwight D. Eisenhower – $8 million
#24: Gerald Ford – $7 million
#25: Jimmy Carter – $7 million
#26: Zachary Taylor – $6 million
#27: William Henry Harrison – $5 million
#28: Benjamin Harrison – $5 million
#29: Millard Fillmore – $4 million
#30: Rutherford B. Hayes – $3 million
#31: William Howard Taft – $3 million
#32: Franklin Pierce – $2 million
#33: Chester A. Arthur – $1 million
#34: William McKinley – $1 million
#35: Warren G. Harding – $1 million
#36: Calvin Coolidge – $500 thousand
#37: Woodrow Wilson – $400 thousand
#38: Harry S. Truman – $300 thousand
#39: James Buchanan – $250 thousand
#40: Abraham Lincoln – $250 thousand
#41: Andrew Johnson – $200 thousand
#42: Ulysses S. Grant – $50 thousand
#43: James A. Garfield – $10 thousand

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

Sourced From WaPo blog/post/who-are-the-1-percenters/2011/ 10/06/gIQAn4JDQL_blog.html
Taken literally, the top 1 percent of American households had a minimum income of $516,633 in 2010 — a figure that includes wages, government transfers and money from capital gains, dividends and other investment income.

That number is down from peak of $646,195 in 2007, before the economic crisis hit, all adjusted to 2011 dollars, according to calculations by the Tax Policy Center. By contrast, the bottom 60 percent earned a maximum of $59,154 in 2010, the bottom 40 percent earned a max of $33,870, while the bottom 20 percent earned just $16,961 at maximum. As Annie Lowrey points out, that gap has grown wider over time: “The top 1 percent of households took a bigger share of overall income in 2007 than they did at any time since 1928.” (And in New York City, it’s even more skewed: the top 1 percent have an average of $3.7 million in income.)

When you look at the disparity in net worth, things look even more skewed. Wealthier Americans have assets — in home equity, stocks and other investments — that generally outstrip their cash income. Average wealth of the top 1 percent was almost $14 million in 2009, according to a 2011 report from the Economic Policy Institute. That’s down from a peak of $19.2 million in 2007.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

True story:

Some years back, before the whole 1% concept became a topic, I was curious as to what the definition of ‘rich’ was in the U.S. Eventually, I found a story about a divorce lawyer out in LA, who specialized in the wealthy. Her threshold for advancing money to cover costs was $15 million. Above $15M there was seldom any fight, thus no fees. Below $15M, lifestyles began to get impacted, and people would fight like 6ell, and thus become worth taking on. Interesting that the numbers from WAPO come out about the same.

Just saying…

The rich are very different than you and I; they don’t bother to post on reuters. Either that, or they pay someone else to do it.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

Point of Clarification:

Wealth to be divided was the $15M threshold, not her fees were $15M.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

Excellent information for supplementing this op-ed, ARJTurgot2. Thank you.

I propose we look at it another way than we’re used to doing, which is usually some kind of conversation about whether or not certain people should pay more in taxes or maybe something about wealth redistribution. We have a finite amount of resources on this planet. The question should be, what is the best way of utilizing those resources that is most advantageous to the human race as a whole? The way we’re currently practicing free market capitalism is definitely not the way most advantageous for the entire human race. A very few people are getting most of the benefit, and they’re destroying our planet to do it. Our oceans are dying. Climate change will wreak havoc on life as we know it. It’s already beginning. And when it happens, the same people who perpetrated it and are resistant to doing anything to stop it, will be the only ones in a position to best protect themselves and their families.

We have to do a better job of piloting our future. We need a system that makes the best, most efficient, use of our limited resources. Capitalism can be a good system, but it requires restructuring, better oversight, and regulations that make the best use of our resources for all, and avoids waste. Our current system fails miserably at that. It’s good at encouraging people to work hard and develop their minds, but it’s mostly geared toward making money, as if nothing else really matters. And the more money the better. Such a system encourages waste, fraud and abuse. We can do better. We’ll have to do better if we’re interested in surviving.

Posted by carnivalchaos | Report as abusive

If you want to turn America into a 3rd world country, just keep worshiping the rich and removing all regulations on the rich, at their urging. That’s Haiti’s recipe.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive


Sorry to disappoint but I’m 73, hale and hearty! I’m planning on living to 100 because it’s NOT going to happen unless one properly prepares and works at it (no guarantee, though).

Methinks I’ll be irritating you for a long, long time yet. Didn’t comment in this thread because I thought comments pretty much covered the bases.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Yes, I believe Paris Hilton and Jane Fonda should have more say than me because they are rich. So they must be smart and hard-working and natural leaders…. or how else could they get all that money?

Give all your power to the rich. They will lead us forward :)

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

I’m glad you’re still going strong. Would like to see your comment which broadens my view usually.

Posted by Kailim | Report as abusive

All money can buy is OUR votes. Not one of mine goes to any republian/liberterian/tea party member or people posing as democrats and independents. There are plenty of people out there like OUR Senators Elizabeth Warren (D), Angus King (I), Bernie Sanders (I), Ed Markey (D)and Tim Kaine (D)who want to restore democracy in America. We need to find and support them from across America. Marjority rules if we vote.

Posted by njglea | Report as abusive

@AJTurgot – Wealth cited for Washington and Jefferson looks suspicious. Even if most of their wealth was in land and that was used to estimate their wealth in today’s dollars that land wouldn’t have been nearly as valuable then. Most of the acreage would have been undeveloped and would have been effectively worthless unless there were tenant farmers on it generating an income for the estate. The houses and outbuildings were not very large and weren’t as complicated and sophisticated to build as in later periods. Rising populations increased their value but neither owner could have claimed that then. They also used on-site materials for the most part. Slave labor should be valued as a very low rate of pay and they tended to live in very poor physical surrounding, all of which they had to build themselves with cheap materials they provided themselves from estate resources. They could augment their diet with some estate produce (I suppose), their own gardens and anything they could catch themselves. In other words. Washington and Jefferson weren’t as rich as they were powerful. You can’t really translate power into dollar amounts easily.

Never the less, you could build houses like Monticello and Mt Vernon today for a few million and Mt Vernon had a lot of copies or modern adaptations over the centuries, especially in the 20th century, but they tended to be built with different technology and materials and that makes them more expensive then the originals.

Real estate assets can only really be reliably valued in terms of the present market value otherwise they really aren’t worth inflation adjusted dollars. They are very sensitive to population pressure. Most of the 13 colonies were very nearly wilderness.

They couldn’t have been the wealthiest presidents of all time in as much as the country wasn’t all that wealthy either. Both of them died in severe financial difficulties. Jefferson died bankrupt. Both estates were sold and went into decline though the 19th century and the houses were very dilapidated before they were made national historic sites. I don’t think either of them ever counted their wealth in millions of dollars even in their own day. I think Mt Vernon was an abandoned building, so that means the estate was idle. Monticello was so far gone animals had been kept in it.

It might be a whole different story if the money that may flood to fund elections here actually managed to elect people that would willingly bankrupt themselves for the welfare of the country but we will probably see something more like Old Rome, or aristocratic Europe, or South American during the 19th and early 20th centuries, where Congress becomes a rich man’s club and totally enthralled to big wealth’s priorities. While the rest have no or little union protection and many more are on some form of national dole. Professionals – except for some public employees like teachers and public employees, don’t tend to have unions. The rest will be wage slaves and dependent on very large businesses for a reliable income or they won’t be able own a house (and mortgage). iT’s a democracy but with substantial nudges in the direction of the companies interest. They may also find pressure is put to bear on them to vote like everyone else in the company votes or you just aren’t promoted.

The whole country could become a company town and, in many ways, already is. We’ll have something that looks like “democracy” but more like the British model during the time before WWI or the Chinese system but with open elections of the officials. The candidates will all have to undergo a largely secret vetting process before you ever see their names.

If it is like the old British model – that would be acceptable because the upper class was expected to fight and possibly die in the wars to create the empire. A lot of upper class men died in WWI. That isn’t what this country has now. Only those with the fewest opportunities find military service attractive and it’s been that way since the Vietnam war.

Now we have a career military that could possibly make itself something like the Praetorian guard, that can have a sizable impact on who is vetted fit for candidacy.

Am I way off the mark here?

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive