Washington, D.C. – A coalition of constituency groups with more than 9.4 million members and supporters has filed an amicus brief today urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold “aggregate” federal campaign contribution limits and avoid dealing the American public another blow like Citizens United. If the Court strikes these limits, a single wealthy donor could contribute more than $3.5 million to one party’s candidates and committees and elected officials could solicit hundreds of thousands of dollars from a single donor—effectively reviving the “soft money” system Congress ended in 2002.
The brief, for the case McCutcheon v. FEC, was authored by Demos, and the unprecedented coalition includes the four principal conveners of the Democracy Initiative (Communications Workers of America, Greenpeace, NAACP, Sierra Club) as well as organizations that represent small businesses (Main Street Alliance), young people (OurTime.org, Rock the Vote), working families (American Federation of Teachers, Working Families Organization), and the public interest (People For the American Way Foundation, U.S. PIRG). The coalition recognizes that making meaningful progress on our core priorities requires reducing the improper influence of large campaign contributions. (Organizational Statements below.)
Read the brief here: http://demos.io/15NlaTq
The brief highlights compelling new political science research demonstrating that government and public policy in the U.S. are responsive almost exclusively to the preferences of Americans who can afford to make large campaign contributions, even when these preferences contrast sharply with those of the general public. The brief connects this new data to the Supreme Court’s current campaign finance jurisprudence by highlighting how this disparate responsiveness is driving the public’s strong sense that government is corrupted by large donors. The Court has long recognized that avoiding corruption and the appearance of corruption are compelling governmental interests that justify limits on contributions.
Using numerous examples and facts, the brief vividly demonstrates the responsiveness of government to wealthy donors and the depth of Americans’ current lack of faith in public institutions and the electoral system. For example:
- Strong majorities of Americans consistently rank creating jobs as more important than reducing deficits; but the very rich have opposite priorities. This discrepancy is common across a range of economic issues.
- Eighty-four percent of members elected to the House of Representatives in 2012, and more than half of the members of the Senate, received more money from the 1% of the 1% than from all their small donors combined.
- When the preferences of the wealthiest 10% of Americans conflict with those of the rest of the population, the 10% trumps the 90%, and the “preferences of people in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent impact on the behavior of their elected officials.”
- The National Election Survey’s most recent Trust in Government Index is tied with its all-time low.
- Congress inspires the lowest level of confidence of any institution since Gallup began exploring the question in 1973.
- Sixty percent of Americans say members of Congress are more likely to vote in a way that pleases their financial supporters, while only 20% think representatives will vote in the best interests of their constituents.
Demos: “Public trust in government is critical to a functioning democracy, but the impact of money in politics is already driving public trust to new lows. New data detailing just how government responds to campaign donors over ordinary voters shows that the public’s concerns about the corruption of our government are, unfortunately, completely justified,” said Brenda Wright, Vice President for Legal Strategies and Counsel of Record on the brief. “A Supreme Court decision striking aggregate contribution limits will take us in exactly the wrong direction, giving improper influence to the wealthiest donors at the expense of the public interest.”
CWA: "If we don’t stop big money from controlling our politics and setting our public policy, an agenda for working Americans that includes good jobs, health care and retirement security, and collective bargaining rights will not be pursued. It's little wonder that the American public holds Congress in low esteem,” said George Kohl, CWA Senior Director for Policy and Legislation. This is CWA’s first campaign finance brief.
Greenpeace: "This case is yet another example of how corporate-backed ideologues are trying to gut the ‘one person, one vote’ principle at the core of democratic elections and replace it with ‘more money, more power.’ If the Court decides it's okay to further weaken campaign finance rules after already giving corporations unlimited rights to secretly fund giant Super PACs, it will be even harder to stop the US Chamber, the CEO of Exxon, the Koch brothers, and other oligarchs and coal kingpins from controlling Congress and pushing the country past irreversible and catastrophic global warming," said Phil Radford, Executive Director of Greenpeace.
NAACP: “Allowing unregulated monetary contributions into our political system is tantamount to ceding the role of the individual in sustaining our democracy,” stated NAACP General Counsel Kim Keenan. “In McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court has the opportunity to restore faith in government and the political process by limiting the influence of money in politics. This is the result that Americans deserve."
Sierra Club: "The Sierra Club's 2.1 million members and supporters know that to protect our environment, we have to protect our democracy. The last thing our nation needs is another decision like Citizens United, opening up the floodgates to even more corrupting money from big polluters that will drown out the voices of the rest of us and wash away any remaining notion of accountability in our government," said Courtney Hight, Director, Sierra Club Democracy Program.
AFT: “The idea of representative democracy underscores our identity as a nation, yet for it to succeed, government must safeguard the ability of all individuals to make their voices heard," said AFT President Randi Weingarten. "Citizens United and our failure to enact campaign finance reforms have led to an improper influence of corporate power. If the Supreme Court now strikes down aggregate contribution limits, it will further privilege wealthy donors in the political process and further undermine working people's confidence that government is serving the public interest."
Main Street Alliance: “Small business owners believe success in business should be based on honest competition and a deep commitment to serving customers – not who has the deepest pockets for political contributions,” said David Borris, an Illinois small business leader who serves on the Executive Committee of the Main Street Alliance. “Striking aggregate contribution limits would leave our elected officials more beholden to big special interests and less responsive to the needs of small businesses. It would threaten to distort market competition through the influence of pay to play politics. That’s bad for small business.”
OurTime.org: "The majority of Americans believe that money persuades elected officials to vote in the interest of their donors as opposed to the majority of their constituents. As advocates of the Millennial generation, a demographic that is larger than any other previous generation but frequently overlooked in election cycles because of their lack of fiscal resources, we oppose any decision that would further distort our politics to give improper influence to the largest donors." Matthew Segal, President and Co-founder, OurTime.org.
People For the American Way Foundation: "The American public already believes that members of Congress care more about wealthy special interests than about everyday Americans - and for good reason," said Executive Vice President Marge Baker. "Unprecedented amounts of money are pouring into our elections. Striking down aggregate contribution limits will only make this problem worse. Protecting the legitimacy of our political system, and restoring the faith of the American people in that system, is vital to a working democracy."
Rock the Vote: "Young Americans are rightfully losing faith in our government to be responsive to their needs, believing that monied interests trump their own. This declining confidence in those we elect to represent us will lead to decreased participation and puts our democracy at great risk. Removing aggregate limits on contributions in elections will only exacerbate this," said Rock the Vote president Heather Smith. "It's time we fought corruption and the appearance of corruption and made the rules surrounding voting and campaign contributions work to promote a stronger democracy."
U.S. PIRG: “As an organization that engages citizens across the country to advocate for the public interest, we are deeply concerned that the increasing role of big money in elections is eroding Americans' faith in our government and political process," said Blair Bowie, democracy advocate at U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "Our democracy risks falling into a downward spiral. If the public perceives that our government is becoming less responsive to the needs of everyday citizens, citizens will disengage from the political process, which in turn will make our elected officials feel less accountable to the public. Striking down aggregate contribution limits would take us leaps further down this dangerous path.”
Working Families Organization: "Working Families advocates for a democracy that responds to the needs of regular Americans, not just corporate interests. We believe that all Americans should have access to essential needs, such as adequate healthcare and living wages – important issues that are left out of the dialogue when money in politics overruns governments,” said Dan Cantor, Executive Director of the Working Families Organization. "With special interests throwing millions of dollars into elections, the needs of people become secondary to the needs of corporations and lobbyists who supply endless campaign donations."
Read the Brief: http://demos.io/15NlaTq
To speak with counsel on the brief or coalition members, please contact: Lauren Strayer, firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-389-1413.
The Political 1% of the 1% in 2012 (Sunlight Foundation)