Most of the attention on Monday focused on the Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate three provisions of the horrific anti-immigration law in Arizona, and to virtually invite subsequent legal action should the one remaining provision be applied in a way the permits racial profiling. Given the hoots and hollers we hard at the GOP primary debate in Arizona, we do not doubt that the law will be applied in such a way, a court challenge will be mounted, and the Court will throw out the one provision it left standing.
But, perhaps the more threatening decision by the Court on Monday had to do with a Montana law that sought to restrict corporate campaign cash from companies that do business with the state. That law was adopted in 1912 by the state of Montana after the “copper kings” had thoroughly corrupted the political system. The Montana state Supreme Court upheld the law, even after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, the obnoxious law that allows corporations and wealthy individuals to spend unlimited amounts of money trying to influence elections. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Montana law, saying that the arguments made by the Montana court were considered in Citizens United and rejected.
In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer, one of Ted Kennedy’s greatest gifts to the country, argued that, “Montana’s experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the court’s decision in Citizen’s United, casts grave doubt on the court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so.” We at CACG couldn’t agree more with Justice Breyer.
It must be remembered that Citizens United was not adopted on a strict legal argument. The court did assert that money would not corrupt the political system. They may have been foolish to do so. Now, such foolishness is even less excusable than it was two years ago in 2010 when they rendered their decision. Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino owner who has shoveled mountains of cash into the race, was unknown to most Americans in 2010 and unknown, I suppose, to Chief Justice Roberts and the four other justices who signed that decision. He is surely known to them now. Did it occur to the justices to ask themselves: This man who kept Newt Gingrich’s campaign afloat for many months, if Gingrich had won, what would have been this casino owner’s influence on a President Gingrich? Now, Adelson is throwing money at Mr. Romney. What does he seek with these investments? Should Romney win, will he be able to say “No” to Mr. Adelson and the other zillionaires who are bankrolling the GOP election effort this year when they come seeking an exemption from a particular regulation? Does anyone really believe that the average American will have the influence over Mr. Romney’s decisions that these plutocrats will have?
We cannot fail to note that some Republicans for whom we have had great respect, even when we disagreed, such as Sen. John McCain, have lost their voice on this issue. Citizens United overturned the law that bore McCain’s name. His silence now is maddening and disheartening and we hope he will find his voice again.
Even more worrisome is the effect of all this campaign cash on congressional races. President Obama and Mr. Romney will both have enough money to get their message out. Besides, if they wish to make news, both men only have to call a press conference and their words will carry into every hamlet and neighborhood in America. But, many Americans, sadly, do not know the name of their congressperson. A million dollars may be a drop in the bucket for the presidential campaigns, but it can certainly swing an otherwise tight race in a congressional contest.
Our bishops are in the midst of what they have called a “Fortnight for Freedom.” They have focused their concerns largely on the HHS mandate regarding contraceptive coverage. We at CACG have added our voice to that of Sr. Carol Keehan calling for the administration to expand its definition of a religious employer to include our Catholic charities, hospitals and universities. For us, especially for us at CACG, these ministries are as essential to our faith as Sunday Mass. But, the greatest threat to freedom in America today does not come from an HHS mandate. The greatest threat is that our democracy is for sale. And the Supreme Court has made it so.