This week the U.S. Senate considered a constitutional amendment that would have allowed Congress and state legislatures to limit the power of money in politics. The debate was not much covered in the media because the outcome was so predictable. But the party-line vote that killed it should not go unnoted.
A remarkable majority of the American public — 79 percent according to Gallup — want campaign finance reform. The right and left, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, even Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly agree that, left unchecked, Big Money corrupts politics and undermines democracy.
That was one of the few things Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton agreed on, and both the American and French Revolutions were fought in part to get the financial power and privilege of aristocracy out of governance.
But even George III after Yorktown and Louis XVI on the eve of execution were more popular than Congress is today, and the strangely perverse partisanship that characterized the debate on the amendment this week helps to explain why.
In fairness, the U.S. Supreme Court started it. In two 5-4 rulings — Citizens United vs the Federal Election Commission in 2010 and McCutcheon vs. FEC last spring — the five conservative justices, like the Republicans in Congress this week, invoked the American Civil Liberties Union’s traditional hard line on free speech to justify lifting restrictions on political spending.