Letter: Elections should not be run like auctions

By Chela Sloper

If you’re a gardener, you know that pulling weeds to their very roots can be tricky business.

Dandelions, mallow, knapweed; each require a slightly different approach, but all of them emit the satisfying “pop” when the whole root is out. Simply picking the leaves may help the appearance of things, but lasting change needs the roots to come out.

In January 2010, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that opened the floodgates for corporations and other entities to make unlimited monetary donations to candidates seeking political office. The case was Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and the majority decision removed limits on donations to candidates, thereby reversing decades of attempted campaign finance reform.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said, “If there was one decision I would overrule it would be Citizens United. I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be.”

Bill Moyers also has said that our elections are auctions, with politicians being sold to the highest bidder. 

Ouch.

The influence of money — in politics, government, and business ventures — reaches beyond political campaigns. Since the late 1800s, business entities have been granted the legal status of “person,” and therefore corporations and other associative organizations have claimed the protections of the Bill of Rights, including freedom of speech as protected by the First Amendment.

Later courts also ruled that money is a form of expression — of speech — and so corporations as well as wealthy individuals can now “say” as much as they want with their money. 

In the end, their “voice” is heard the loudest, since they can increase their “volume” with the volume of money spent.

But this changes the playing field, doesn’t it?  How can a Little League baseball team expect to have a fair game against the majors? In his dissent of the Citizens United decision, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, “A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.”

Our politicians are our legislators;  they are the ones making the laws that govern how business is conducted, how our democratic values should be lived out. 

We know that campaign financing soared to $7 billion in 2012; projections for the 2016 campaign cycle are in the neighborhood of $12 billion. Isn’t it likely that moneyed interests, when able to purchase the legislators, are guaranteeing their desired outcomes? Since when has corruption been legal?

The idea of overturning Citizens United is gaining traction in the marketplace of ideas, but I don’t think it goes far enough. It’s like pulling the leaves off the weeds, rather than getting to the root.

A democracy movement is afoot. Its goal is to correct the course of democracy in America that has been derailed by big-money interests ,which have relied on the legal definitions mentioned above. Move to Amend is a national grassroots organization that strikes at the root of the problem, seeking a constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood, and to remove the constitutional protections of money as speech.

It’s a long-term commitment, but I’m counting on the smarts of the American people to get involved.

Let’s get on our gloves and pull some weeds!

— Chela Sloper lives in Bend.

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