If money buys 'free' speech, how will poor ever be heard?

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Cash contributions threaten representative government

By Mary Schmuck

At this point I have been involved in helping promote active citizenship for 33 years. I place great value on our United States representative democracy and the responsibility of each of us to keep this gift strong.

One doesn’t have to pay close attention to it all to realize the growing volume of money that flows through our representative democracy, especially in our leadership selections and consequent public policy decisions. The challenge to us citizens, it seems to me: not to let this dynamic tempt us to total cynicism and bugging out of our citizenship responsibilities.

Given this, I cannot see how it is not a major body blow to US representative democracy that our current Supreme Court has made an activist decision (moving toward making/influencing law, not just judging it to be in line with our Constitution or not) to let a creature that exists as a person only in our laws have First Amendment rights to contribute without limit to defeating or promoting candidates for public office. (Some probably have been wise in observing that our current Supreme Court has no one on it who actually has run for a political office and so has experience with the influence of money).

Our Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell has been very public in saying for decades that “money is free speech,” noting that it takes money to get on television and other media and be heard. True. My question though has always been – what about the free speech rights of people without big money?

Some possible responses to this very troubling federal government development include: get a constitutional amendment (the 28th) that distinguishes between corporations and human persons; limit spending by corporations having big federal contracts or doing most of their business abroad; protect corporation shareholders’ rights by requiring their permission for their corporation to spend heavily for political activities; blend small-donor funding with public funding to reduce the fundraising pressure from corporations; and limit international corporations from airing political ads. Each has pros and cons that require our careful consideration and deliberation.

For those of us who are very worried about world government: how is it better that we be ruled by big international or national corporations? Already they are better networked with some enforcement powers than our global community’s government entities. Is this a good thing?

I keep coming back to that table metaphor for a stable society. Such a society is like a table with 4 legs - that need to be about the same length, and tension among them is needed to keep the table standing. Using this analysis, has the business leg of our societal table grown longer? Who benefits? Loses?

Another thing I don’t understand: apparent support from unions and organizations focusing sharply on just a few issues. They too have enhanced freedom to spend in election campaigns. Proportionately though, isn’t their spending like that of ants among really large animals? So, have they really won anything substantial?

What will the consequences of this Supreme Court decision do to people considering a run for public office, especially if a troublesome corporation is operating in their area, for example?

Please understand: I know full well how much I depend upon, benefit from and appreciate many corporations. However, I do firmly believe we human person citizens ought to be running our government.

Sister Mary Schmuck, RSM works with Catholic Charities of Louisville Parish Social Ministry Department. She may be reached at schmuckrsm@scnazarethky.org.