The Supreme Court eviscerates democracy

Opinion: Columns

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By Tom Decoursey

With its recent McCutcheon decision, which buttresses their Citizens United decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has demonstrated its commitment to radical activism. The rationale presented by Roberts in his majority opinion is comical in its absurdity. 

In McCutcheon, the Supreme Court not only eviscerates campaign finance law but violates the separation of powers by instructing Congress on what laws it may or may not pass: "Congress may target only a specific type of corruption — 'quid pro quo' corruption." 

While admitting that Congress may limit "the appearance of corruption," Roberts explicitly excludes from his definition of corruption, "spending large amounts of money in connection with elections" even if this means that "an individual who spends large sums may garner 'influence over or access to' elected officials or political parties." 

To any normal person, this is precisely the definition of corruption: individuals who donate huge sums of money to politicians are given preferential access to discuss their legislative desires with the elected politician, who then passes the laws that were requested (or written) by the rich donors.

Chief Justice John Roberts should be impeached for the perjury he committed during his confirmation hearings, in which he claimed that he would respect previous Supreme Court decisions. The only precedent Roberts could dredge up was Citizens United, which was a flagrantly activist departure from all previous judicial history. 

In the minority opinion (written by four of the nine justices), numerous previous Supreme Court decisions are cited that diametrically contradict the McCutcheon decision. For example, in the Beaumont decision (2003), the Supreme Court "found constitutional a ban on direct contributions by corporations because of the need to prevent corruption, properly understood not only as quid pro quo agreements, but also as undue influence on an officeholder's judgment." In the McConnell decision, "the Court relied upon a vast record compiled in the District Court. That record consisted of over 100,000 pages of material and included testimony from more than 200 witnesses. … What it showed, in detail, was the web of relationships and understandings among parties, candidates, and large donors that underlies privileged access and influence. … Indeed, no one had identified a 'single discreet instance of quid pro quo corruption' due to soft money. … But what the record did demonstrate was that enormous soft money contributions, ranging between $1 million and $5 million among the largest donors, enabled wealthy contributors to gain disproportionate 'access to federal lawmakers' and the ability to 'influence legislation.' … There was an indisputable link between generous political donations and opportunity after opportunity to make one's case directly to a member of Congress."

In summary, the Roberts Supreme Court defines corruption so strictly that it does not exist. It does not require even the minimal subtlety of a Chicago politician to avoid the appearance of corruption with this court. You pay the money up front. Once in office, the congressman invites you to propose whatever legislation you want, which he then brings to the floor of Congress. Because you did not specify precisely which laws you wanted passed at the time you handed the suitcase full of cash to the politician, Justice Roberts declares that you have engaged in perfectly legal constitutionally protected speech! 

Tom DeCoursey is a longtime resident of Oak Park.

Reader Comments

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Ray Simpson from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 18th, 2014 7:32 AM

I understand that the Dems know that they will use this decision for every penny it's worth. They are just making hay while their sheep bleat mindlessly. This decision is party neutral and will favor neither side.

dreamer from Oak Park  

Posted: April 16th, 2014 11:39 PM

It is my understanding that this ruling still limits the amount that can be given to a single candidate;it merely allows an individual to support as many candidates as he wishes.Not too many pols being bought off for $4600 when PAC money from both sides dwarfs the individual limits.You are completely(and intentionally)overstating the impact of this decision.As well as misstating what it actually permits.


Posted: April 13th, 2014 8:08 AM

Finally I agree with you that one person should not have undue influence. The Koch brothers or Soros didn't come to mind but Mike Madigan did, not to mention John Cullerton and are very own Senate President Pro Tempore Don Harmon. All these elected official as well as lawyers partnering in firms that I'm sure only have the best interest of the people in the once great state of Illinois.

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: April 12th, 2014 3:01 PM

@Bill Dwyer: we agree on more than we disagree. my union problem is the recent push by UAW into the southern auto plants and the southern employees do nor want UAW presence.Yet the UAW still pushing. My own union owes was w/Teamsters 705 w/UPS where I paid as a part time employee full union dues, same as drivers. At that time there was no benefits, except the purchase of a union button. I here unspent political contributions become property of the candidate,no taxes if given to another campaign

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: April 12th, 2014 12:08 PM

Yes, Brian. We agree that any one person of enormous wealth being allowed to donate unlimited amounts of money to a political cause is a bastardization of democracy, irrespective of their party affiliation. So is the ability to hide Super PAC contributions, whether its a Democrat (Rahm Emanuel for one) or a Republican doing it. We disagree on "No sound bites,television commericals,photo ops." That IS free speech, and shouldn't be limited. Btw, where do you get your union percentages from?

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: April 12th, 2014 11:15 AM

@Bill Dwyer: Can we agree that the money spent by George Sorros and family is also a "bastardization" and that not all 14 million union members will vote for the person the union tells them to vote for? I propose and end to campaigns,after debates, issue a side by side position statement and vote off that. No sound bites,television commericals,photo ops.

Tom DeCoursey from Oak Park  

Posted: April 12th, 2014 8:39 AM

To claim that limiting the money one person can spend in an attempt to buy influence limits "free speech" means that freedom should be doled out in proportion to wealth. Each Koch brother gets 1,000,000 times more "speech" than the average American. Lawmakers pass laws that are opposed by a large majority of their constituents, because they "hear" only the "speech" of their wealthy/corporate donors. This is not democracy, which I support. This is oligarchy.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: April 11th, 2014 8:04 PM

No, OP Resident, you're missing the point. More than 14 million union members pay money to have their interests represented. More than $700 million from ONE man, Sheldon Adelson is not 'free speech.' It's a bastardization of democracy. Same with the Koch brothers. Any union member who believes the GOP is aligned with their interests is a damn fool. So maybe I am, in you're view, 'braying.' I say, get used to it. Because the idea that money is speech is bunk. No matter what the SOCUS says.

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: April 11th, 2014 6:33 PM

Bill, you're missing the point. Unions may indeed "represent" large #'s of people, but their political contributions do not. Overwhelmingly union $$ goes to D's (90 %+), but union membership is about 55/45 D to R. Overall, the braying from the left over this decision & Citizens United is irrational, and hypocritical. George Soros & union $$ OK, but the Koch $$ is evil. Wrong on so many levels, but is fun to see how apoplectic some people get over it.

Nelson Taruc from Oak Park  

Posted: April 10th, 2014 9:52 PM

Tom, as long as there's money in politics, there will always be the risk of corruption and undue influence. However, mitigating that risk can't come at the expense of abridging the free exchange of political debate. There are plenty of other ways to reduce corruption: term limits, tighter rules on lobbyists, and mandatory vote recusals when a member of Congress has a clear conflict of interest. So let's agree to support legislation that'll fix the problem AND protect first amendment rights, OK?


Posted: April 10th, 2014 7:10 PM

I don't know axel stein, I've heard the evil Koch brothers battle cry, but my small world is OP, Cook County and Illinois. My voice is unheard due to the organized political factors who lobby on their behalf to the exclusion of me and my other unorganized neighbors just getting along. It results in sweetheart deals like 40% spikes, 25k retirement raises. A burden that affects the majority to support the union connected.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: April 10th, 2014 6:21 PM

So, EW, how in your thinking do numerous unions, which by definition represent thousands and hundreds of thousands of individuals, compare with the Sheldon Adelsteins and Koch brothers of America? Apples and oranges, pal.

EW from Oak Park  

Posted: April 10th, 2014 6:05 PM

Tom, What are your thoughts on unions? They have spent $100 million plus on recent elections. Why do they get a pass but corporations and wealthy individuals need to be restricted?

Bill Masterson from Oak Park   

Posted: April 10th, 2014 4:56 PM

Radical activism, comical in its absurdity, Roberts should be impeached. Really? Civility goes out the window when you disagree with someone I guess. While your at it might as well get rid of lobbying. Obama can save time on those $30,000 a head meet and greets here in Chicago. Wonder what the patrons talk about ? I use Obama as a example because of his recent trip; both parties do it.

Tom DeCoursey from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 10th, 2014 3:50 PM

Nelson, the decision explicitly defines quid-pro-quo corruption as the ONLY form of corruption that can be legislated against. The definition is so narrow it never occurs in real life. Are you saying that there is no corruption in US politics?

Nelson Taruc from Oak Park  

Posted: April 9th, 2014 10:26 PM

Tom, you're distorting the majority opinion's impact on campaign finance. First, base contribution limits remain unchanged. Second, there is little evidence that shows eliminating aggregate limits would lead to abuse. In fact, the court found that political groups have historically been stingy with transferring their own money to other candidates or states. Third, Chief Roberts outlined ways Congress can solve this issue, such as a law that restricts transfers between candidates and PACs.


Posted: April 9th, 2014 5:41 AM

Why so angry?impeach really, I think you should focus more of your energy on the pathetic influence special interests have here in our corrupt state, from lawer legislators who mostly represent us while taking two salarys or union officials bankrupting our state. I know the promblem is the filthy 1%

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