Littwin: We love our American politic$

[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ike many of you, I am thrilled that the Supreme Court, in its supreme wisdom, has ruled that what our dysfunctional political system could really use is more money.

OK, I’m not actually thrilled. No one this side of Sheldon Adelson is actually thrilled.

In the 2012 federal election cycle, our politicians and their big-money allies spent something like $12 billion. And look where it has gotten us. Whatever side of the political divide you find yourself on, we can probably agree that this is one time when throwing money at a problem hasn’t helped.

You don’t need a poll to understand this. All you need to do is listen to the politicians railing that the other guy’s money is no good. That’s why you hear that Michael Bloomberg is trying to buy an election. Or that the Koch brothers are paying an actress to tell us in a political ad that, yes, she doesn’t like political ads.

[pullquote]It’s the Adelson money tour that explains why it’s wrong to simply blame the Supreme Court. Do you think the Adelson Four will pay any political cost for their group humbling?[/pullquote]

Here’s what else we can agree on: There’s too much money in politics. Politicians spend too much time raising it. People with money have too much access to the people with power.

And, coincidentally, our political system is out of whack.

The main problem with the big money in politics is that it is growing ever larger, and, based on the latest news, will continue to do so.

But despite what you might expect me to say here, this is not all the Supreme Court’s fault. It’s just mostly the Supreme Court’s fault. Everyone gets a share of the blame here, or at least everyone who votes.

The court did give us Citizens United, which gave us Sheldon Adelson, who gave us Newt Gingrich redux in the course of spending something like $90 million in a vain effort to beat Barack Obama. And now the court has ruled, in McCutcheon vs. the FEC, that Congress can’t limit the aggregate amount of money you can spend on candidates. As of today — but don’t hold your breath — there’s a limit of $5,200 you can spend on a single federal candidate in an election cycle. But there was also a limit of $123,000 that you could spend on all candidates. That, now, is gone.

Congress put it in there to limit the influence of big spenders, but the court says there are now so many ways to spend money on campaigns, that this is just small-stakes stuff and not where you’d go to buy influence — not that influence is a bad thing, anyway. And only about 600 people maxed out under the old rules.

But election-law experts say that this just the beginning — that, with this ruling, you can expect a deregulation of most federal campaign money limits, which will probably work as well as the airlines deregulation did. How long will it be before the Supreme Court starts charging us for luggage?

Chief Justice John Roberts, in writing the ruling opinion, concluded that Congress would be in violation of the First Amendment if it tried to “level the playing field” or to “level electoral opportunities,” and since money is speech and big money is just big speech, you can see the problem — limiting big money is like limiting loud, obnoxious speech.

As Amy Davidson points out in the New Yorker, Roberts believes these rich donors need this protection.  Roberts writes: “Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects,” noting that “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.”

The one thing Congress can do, Roberts says, is to make sure elections aren’t corrupt. And here’s where the experts say everything falls apart: Roberts writes that corruption basically begins and ends with bribery — I give you money and you vote this way.

And yet, we understand that our politics are corrupted in a hundred different ways. But Roberts insists it’s not a problem if big money affords access or demands that a candidate show his or her gratitude — that it’s just the way the Founders foresaw it. You can take it from there: If Congress can’t do anything to level the playing field and shouldn’t worry about the obvious influence of big money, what’s left?

Here’s what’s left: Four potential Republican presidential candidates — Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, John Kasich — showing up at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas for what they’re calling the Sheldon Adelson primary, in which they auditioned for some of the casino owner’s $39.9 billion. The big news was that after Christie’s speech, he would have to apologize to Adelson for mistakenly calling the “occupied territories” the “occupied territories,” which probably got him barred from Adelson’s craps tables.

It’s the Adelson money tour that explains why it’s wrong to simply blame the Supreme Court. Do you think the Adelson Four will pay any political cost for their group humbling? Of course not. This is the new accepted normal, or maybe just the old accepted normal. We don’t simply tolerate the money wars; we grade the candidates by how much they raise. Money always outs, and attempts to limit it in politics seem to always fail.

The Washington Post has a funny/sad piece on the many attempts to limit money in elections, dating back to — get ready — George Washington. It seems that in 1755 Washington ran for the Virginia colonial legislature — the House of Burgesses — and lost. According to the Post, when he ran two years later, he made sure to buy $195 worth of refreshments for his friends, causing outraged legislators to pass a law prohibiting “money, meat, drink, entertainment or provision or … any present, gift, reward or entertainment etc. in order to be elected.”

Washington went on to have a decent career anyway. Father of our country. And, just maybe, father of the open bar.


  1. “I do find funny, though, the hypocrisy by those who only decry money being spent by opponents”
    Mike Littwin October 29, 2013

    It’s difficult–and somewhat amusing– to reconcile the Mike Littwin quoted above with the Mike Littwin who authored this column because Mike Littwin No. 1 would call Mike Littwin No. 2 a hypocrite. And rightly so.

    The only politicians named in the column are Republicans and the only donor Mr. Littwin mentions, Sheldon Adelson, is a Republican donor, intentionally leaving the impression only Republicans will benefit from the Supreme Court ruling. An impression far from the truth.

    Is coincidence responsible for the fact Mr. Littwin fails to name even one Democrat or liberal donor? Hardly. It’s simply another instance of Mr. Littwin’s unwillingness/inability to practice what he preaches.

    And who, outside of the Supreme Court, does Mr. Littwin hold responsible for the court’s ruling? ”It’s the Adelson money tour that explains why it’s wrong to simply blame the Supreme Court.” And let’s not forget, he blames voters, too. Although he doesn’t mention any one voter by name.

    Does Mr. Littwin honestly believe George Soros doesn’t have liberal acolytes who prostrate themselves at his feet in return for funding?

    And while conceding “that our politics are corrupted in a hundred different ways.” he fails to mention any outside of deep-pocket donors, so I thought I’d help. Can you say earmarks?

    As Johnathan S. Tobin writes in Commentary Magazine:
    “Yet what often goes unnoticed or is, in fact, tolerated, is a different sort of corruption that is far more common than millionaires purchasing members of Congress. (It is) the ability of incumbent politicians to raid the public treasury for expenditures to buy the votes of certain constituencies is not only legal, it is the most decisive form of campaign finance available.”

    And, as Tobin writes later in the article, while liberals may complain about large donors at least “those billionaires are trying to influence elections with their own money, pork-barrel politicians ………. are doing it with yours.”

    Memorial Day – May 26, 2014

  2. Mr. Lopez coughs up yet another of his deceptive screeds playing the “Soros” card to defend the scurrilous decision of the Roberts Court. Mr Lopez’s verbal diarrhea reaches a new zenith with each offering of his laughable commentaries.

  3. Hey ScreenSniffer (aka Coldcatcher)

    Hey, before you slither back under your rock, what took you a week to respond?

    Back in rehab again?

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