Money isn't speech and corporations aren't people. Most people get that. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, however, political contributions by corporations and the richest Americans actually are free speech and entitled to special protection. Even when they're made in secret.
That's why today's action on the Democracy for All amendment by the U.S. Senate is so important -- it is the first step toward stopping the damage that big money in politics is doing to our democracy. The constitutional amendment -- S.J. Resolution 19 -- will enable Congress and the states to set reasonable limits on political spending. To many, it looks like a long road ahead, since constitutional amendments require two-thirds approval by the Senate, House and three-quarters of the states.
But we're encouraged that a majority of senators stood up for a democratic election process. This is the first step in restoring some balance in our politics, in breaking the cycle of ever-more costly elections and growing expenditures by secret donors and organizations, and in assuring ordinary Americans that yes, their political voice does matter. American voters are fed up with our politics, convinced that the wealthy are now likely to control the electoral process. They're not wrong.
The overwhelming majority of Americans supports common sense limits on political spending, and a majority of Senators agree with them.
Over the past few years, working- and middle-class Americans have seen the billions of dollars spent by corporations and the wealthy in federal, state and local elections result in special access, special tax breaks and special treatment. That's not what democracy looks like.
During this year's midterm congressional races, it's expected that more than $4.6 billion will be spent on TV advertising alone. The money being poured into 2014 races by anonymous donors and organizations has already eclipsed the 2010 campaigns, previously the most expensive midterms ever.
The Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, in particular, have warped our political process, allowing virtually unlimited political and secret spending and giving the richest one-tenth of 1 percent the ability to control our elections and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.
Add the Supreme Court's 2013 Shelby County decision on voting rights into the mix, and suddenly it's more difficult for ordinary Americans to vote but much easier for the super-rich to influence elections.
A new study documents that democracy in the U.S. has been hijacked by "economic elites and organized groups representing business interests," leaving average citizens with "little or no independent influence."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has called the effort to take back Congress's ability to regulate contributions "an act of true radicalism." If that's so, millions of ordinary Americans are a growing army of radicals, determined to take back our political voice. In our 21st century democracy, the rights of all of us to participate effectively must be supreme.