“Whoever has the most toys wins.”
I used to laugh (albeit pityingly) at this slogan whenever I saw it on tee shirts during my NYC boom days in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It was mildly funny then. It’s not so funny when the Supreme Court makes it official.
As all of you know by now, it is now okay for companies to spend unlimited amounts of money supporting or attacking candidates (see here for what I’m talking about). And, of course, since shareholders are so willing to give up their profits for the public good, I just know these companies will be spending their money on behalf of candidates who are truly looking out for the little guy, who want to make sure we don’t go bankrupt when faced with hospital bills, even though we had insurance… who want to make sure the air we breathe doesn’t give our kid asthma… who think it would be nice if insurance rates didn’t end up costing more than what we insured in the first place... who want to head off the next profit-crazy, risk-be-damned collapse of Wall Street caused by execs who make more in a single year's bonus than I am likely to make in a lifetime.
Or maybe not. Personally, I'm seeing a flotilla of swift boats heading straight for us, their gun sights trained on democracy. This ruling all but guarantees that the voices of people like you and me will be drowned out by the sound of money pouring forth from special interests with a very vested interest in candidates who are willing to promote their profit-friendly "public" policies.
I’ll be honest with you: I don’t make a lot of money. I work in the non-profit world and write for a living. I'm lucky to make my mortgage each month. I don't have a lot of money to buy commercials and create faux documentaries that promote my candidates or leave their opposition in shreds. I pretty much have my vote and that’s it. I wonder if I’ll even want to use my vote now, or if my candidate choices will be limited to people backed by special interests who are more than happy to make good on the investment these special interests have made. These are not the kind of people I want representing me, period, and I don’t like holding my nose with one hand while I pull the voting lever with the other. I don't know many people that do. That's why turn-out rates are in the toilet and young voters are disillusioned with the system.This ruling is only going to make that trend worse.
Ever since the Citizens United decision, I have been searching for something I can do to fight back. A constitutional amendment to differentiate between the rights of individuals and the rights of corporations seems like a long process and I’m not one for delayed gratification. (It took over 70 years to win women the right to vote and I think the ERA is still out there floating around somewhere.) I suppose we could place money limits on very specific classes of donors, like government contractors, but that’s really going at it brick by brick when what we really need is a wall. So, for now, I’m going to do what I should have done starting a decade ago: I am going to ask my friends, one-by-one, to finally take the time to learn about and support more Voter-Owned Elections in North Carolina. It's been my job to do this for two years, but I don't think I really understood how important they were until now. We don't have a lot of ways to fight the effects of this ruling. But we do have Voter-Owned Elections. I’ve seen them work. I’ve seen candidates using a VOE program go up against candidates with deep pockets and win. I’ve seen good people elected through them. Now, more than ever, I am going to support Voter-Owned elections as one of our only hopes for continuing to find and elect true public servants – you know, those rare men and women who actually want to represent and serve the public good (an approach to power that five Supreme Court justices could really use a good dose of).