It’s great to be a millionaire! You get to have all that money, live a lavish lifestyle and have your capital gains taxed at rates that are maybe one third to one half the rate of any income you happen to earn. Chalk up a new privilege for having deep pockets, thanks to a June 26th Supreme Court ruling. If you want to run for office, and so many millionaires do, you are also guaranteed to have an advantage over any less moneyed opponent.
The court has long held the dubious opinion that money is equal to freedom of speech. The obvious inference is that those with lots of money have a whole lot more freedom of speech than the rest of us. If I want to have the freedom of speech that millionaires have, say to put a full page advertisement in most of the nation’s major metropolitan newspapers, I might need to raise a couple million dollars. A millionaire though just writes a check. Done. I guess you have to wonder what is the point of having money, it being a completely fungible commodity, if you cannot spend it like you want. Some millionaires use their money to buy condominiums in Trump Tower while others use it to run for office. (Some do both.) No wonder that politicians like John McCain and John Kerry marry rich. Unless you have a certain personal magnetism like Barack Obama or have extremely good party connections, most politicians of modest means have to grub for campaign money the old fashioned way.
The so-called “Millionaire’s Amendment”, an attempt at campaign finance reform sponsored by Senators McCain and Feingold, was an attempt to even out the playing field for the less moneyed candidates. It was based on the assumption that all candidates should have as equal a playing field as possible so their message can be as equally heard as possible. This would allow voters to make a more informed choice and would promote a more effective government. The court had already invalidated limits on how much a millionaire can spend on their own campaign with their own money. The Millionaire’s Amendment simply stated that when a candidate spends more than $350,000 of his own money to run for office, his opponents’ contributors can spend up to three times as much as the normal $2,300 personal campaign limit otherwise imposed by law.
In this ruling, the Supreme Court once again proved that it is far more concerned about the free speech rights of millionaires than people like you and me. On the same day it overturned 200 years of precedent by saying that citizens have an absolute right to own a gun it also came out with this squirrelly opinion right out of Animal Farm.
Surely, you have read the George Orwell classic, right? In case you missed it, the book is a parable that tells the story of animals on a farm revolting against their oppressive owners and taking collective ownership of the farm. Only, as was true of the communism that it satired, the animals discovered that while all animals were in theory equal, some, specifically the pigs, were “more equal” than others.
Citizens, your Supreme Court agrees. The Declaration of Independence solemnly proclaims that all American citizens are created equal, but since those exact words are not in the constitution, the Supreme Court instead decided to parse the freedom of speech clause. Freedom to speak is apparently equivalent to the freedom to spend your own money anyway you want, which I mistook for the concept of liberty. If you are rich and running for office, your money gives you a disproportionate advantage to get out your message. It is like you having a sound truck going up and down the block while your opponent is reduced to speaking at a street corner. Guess whose point of view you are likely to hear? Guess who has a disproportionate influence?
The Millionaire’s Amendment was simply an attempt to even out the playing field a bit. There were no constraints on how much a millionaire could spend on his campaign, but it did allow his opponents to be heard a little louder. At least that was true until this ruling invalidated it. Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the slim 5-4 majority, said that it “imposes a penalty on any candidate who robustly exercises that First Amendment right” to “engage in unfettered political speech.”
You would think that a millionaire’s opponent would have that same unfettered right, but apparently only to the extent of their own less sizeable assets. In short, the Supreme Court has very explicitly stated that some people’s rights to finance their campaign are more important than yours, and you can measure the size of that right by the money in their pockets. Any attempts to rectify the situation through law, even when it does not restrain the millionaire’s right to spend his money as he pleases, are likely to be ruled unconstitutional by this court.
Clearly some animals are more equal than others and it appears the Supreme Court is going to make sure it stays that way.