One Dollar, One Vote

In past struggles for suffrage, whether it involved African Americans or women or some other oppressed group, one rallying cry has been “one voice, one vote.” With universal suffrage, that is the ideal that the United States says that it tries to live by. However, a recent Supreme Court decision has put “one voice, one vote” in danger, with it instead being replaced by “one dollar, one vote.”

The Supreme Court decision I am talking about is not Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), although that decision does play an important role in the “one dollar, one vote” quote that I use. Instead, I am referring to a decision that was handed down on Wednesday, April 2: McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. This case pitted the appellant (McCutcheon) against the limits of what one person can contribute in an election campaign. In this case, McCutcheon won, in large part because of the general argument that, “At that point [when a donor is no longer to give any more money to candidates], the limits deny the individual all ability to exercise his expressive and associational rights by contributing to someone who will advocate for his policy preferences.” This quote, and the whole case itself, carries multiple implications.

One such implication is that the wealthy people and corporations have easier access to free speech than the rest of the country. That is already the case (just look at the lack of middle class candidates for political office at the national level), but recent Supreme Court cases only justify this idea in legal writing. I say this because, in both the Citizens United and the McCutcheon decisions, the Roberts Court justified its ruling on the premise of free speech (First amendment) rights. In other words, recent Supreme Court cases have concluded that limiting donations is unconstitutional because such restraints take away a donor’s ability to express free speech. However, the majority opinion fails to look at the flip side of the issue: if each dollar given by a donor is viewed as an expression of free speech, then the well-to-do have disproportionately more access to free speech than the rest of American society. This is an unfortunate fact that this country will have to face in the wake of recent Supreme Court decisions.

Constitutional arguments aside, another implication of this court case is that candidates will grow increasingly out-of-touch with the middle and working classes. In order to see what I mean, think about the people that these recent Supreme Court cases will benefit: wealthy businessmen like McCutcheon, unions with huge donor bases (indeed, according to Citizens United, unions have the same rights as corporations), and corporations. While these people are outnumbered by the middle and working classes at the voting booth, the wealthy have so much money that they can practically influence policy with their own donations. In the process, this leaves middle and working classes in the dust with both donations and policies. As a result, voters are looking at a mockery of a democracy.

The implication of the “mockery” that I am talking about is that the United States will end up with “one dollar, one vote” for its “democracy.” Oh well, so much for “one voice, one vote.”