U.S. District Court Judge Paul A. Crotty had no choice – he was bound by recent Supreme Court precedent to strike some New York campaign spending limits. As The New York Times’ David Firestone noted, Judge Crotty’s 5-page opinion and order provided “about as clear-eyed description of the corruption now permeating the political system as anyone has written.”
Judge Crotty took to task the Supreme Court’s opinions in Citizens United v. FEC and this year’s McCutcheon v. FEC, both of which have only made it easier for the wealthy to control the nation’s elections. (And many have argued that the wealthy have never needed such help. A recent study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page for Princeton found that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”)
In his April 24 opinion and order, Judge Crotty nevertheless had to invalidate some modest limits on spending by independent groups, in this case a group called the New York Progress Protection Pac, which spent heavily in support of Republican Joseph Lhota’s New York City mayoral race. In the process, however, Crotty blasted the Supreme Court’s majority opinions in Citizens United and McCutcheon.
“In effect” Crotty wrote, “it is only direct bribery – not influence – that the [Supreme] Court views as crossing the line into quid pro quo corruption.” Crotty noted that he believes Justice Stephen Breyer who lodged a dissent in McCutcheon got it right, but that his hands were tied because of the majority opinions in McCutcheon and Citizens United.
He “who pays the piper calls the tune,” Crotty wrote. “Indeed, today’s reality is that the voices of ‘we the people’ are too often drowned out by the few who have great resources. In today’s never-ending cycle of campaigning and lobbying; lobbying and campaigning, elected officials know where there money is coming from and that it must keep coming if they are to stay in office. Ordinary citizens recognize this; they know what is going on; they know they are not being included. It breeds cynicism and distrust.”
See Crotty’s full opinion here.
But beyond evolving Supreme Court precedent that advances interests of the wealthy, Professor Nicholas Carnes writing for TPM Cafe says we also must realize who is crafting policy in Washington -- primarily millionaires.
“My research suggests,” Carnes writes, “that we have a government for the privileged in the United States in part because we have government by the privileged.” Carnes research shows how rare it is for voters to be able to support candidates from the middle-or-working classes. Typically the voter has a narrow choice, “Do you want to vote for a millionaire lawyer or a millionaire business owner?”