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Thursday, Nov 27, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Just what we need, more money in politics

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Published:   |   Updated: April 3, 2014 at 06:37 AM

If you've been thinking about investing in the exploding market for ear plug sales or television mute button manufacturers, Wednesday sounded the cavalry charge for action.

If you've been pondering a career as a relentlessly deceptive political advertising mogul, there is no better time than now to make your move. Everyone else might want to consider a Netflix subscription — or anything where you're not subjected to commercials.

All those things are in play after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision that struck down limits on federal campaign contributions. Saddle up and stand ready. The blitz of unrelenting negativity we just endured during the Sink-Jolly race for the U.S. House of Representatives was just the appetizer.

More money buys more air time to spread negativity, and there is going to be a lot more money now.

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Before, individuals were limited to $48,600 in overall contributions every two years for all federal candidates. The 5-4 ruling Wednesday said that violated First Amendment rights, although interestingly it did keep the $2,600 limit per candidate in place for general and primary elections.

“There is no right in our democracy more basic,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion, “than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.”

He held that while the government has a “strong interest” in combating even the appearance of corruption, the law should focus on “quid pro quo corruption.”

The kind of “quid pro quo” the chief justice referenced is called a bribe, and I'm already pretty sure you can get in trouble for that. But big donors don't back financial campaigns out of a sense of civic participation. All that money doesn't just buy commercials and mailbox fliers.

Money buys influence.

That's never been more obvious than when we look at the mess in the House and U.S. Senate. Representatives in both parties are locked into rigid ideology by the donors who put them there. Occasionally you hear of lawmakers who would like to break party ranks and vote their conscience on a particular issue, but doing so comes with the risk of financial Armageddon.

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Money buys tools who wear nice suits and know which button to push during roll call votes. Mavericks who stray from the PAC — um, I mean the pack — can face a primary challenge from a suddenly well-funded employee. So the meek inherit the campaign checks, and the rest of us get trampled.

Indeed, Justice Stephen Breyer, writing the minority opinion, said the ruling “eviscerates our nation's campaign finance laws.”

We saw the worst of politics play out in the Sink-Jolly race. The election attracted an incredible amount of money from outside the state, which financed ads that were distortions or flat-out lies. That hardly serves the interest of ensuring a well-informed populace, but now it's going to get worse.

This tightens the grip of the uber-wealthy on national politics, which is what all those pesky campaign finance laws were put in place to address.

I'm sure checkbooks are flying open already and the blitz is headed our way.

TV ad sales people will be happy, I'm sure.

The rest of us, not so much.

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