Friday, January 22, 2010

Votes for Sale

You shall take no bribe.
For a bribe blinds the yes of the officials,
and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.
Exodus 23:8

Yesterday in a 5-4 ruling the Supreme Court overturned both laws and legal precedents to declare that corporations can enter directly into political campaigns.

Apparently they believe that the rich and powerful are underrepresented in public life. We already have powerful lobbyists trying to buy votes after our leaders are elected. Now they can buy them first.

It’s not hard to imagine what the Prophets of Israel would say about this. And the New Testament perspective is consistent with Hebrew Scripture. When we read the Bible, one of the things that is clear from beginning to end is that the biblical writers had a keen sense of the interconnection between justice and economics. They knew that wealth and power went together, and they decried the tendency of the rich to oppress the poor.

Micah, Isaiah and Amos all spoke out against the ways that the rich had perverted justice. This is not because the rich are bad and the poor are good. All people, rich and poor, share a tendency to look out for their own self-interest. The biblical perspective is not that rich people are somehow more selfish than poor people, but that they have more power to realize their self-interest. The great American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, called this view Christian Realism.

When John McCain and Russ Feingold joined together to reform the election process and eventually passed the McCain-Feingold Act in 2002, they were acting on a widely shared bi-partisan sense that elections were too greatly influenced by rich and powerful groups and individuals. The goal was to level the playing field, or at least reduce the angle. The act was not perfect and it has always had many critics, but most ordinary Americans would agree that electoral politics should not be big business.

The Supreme Court has decided otherwise. I’m guessing this is a case where the right wing will not complain about “Activist Judges” overturning laws passed by elected representatives, although that is precisely what happened.

1 comment:

  1. The Associated Press aptly points out that the door swings both ways (I found the headline amusing):

    CEOs to Hill: Quit calling us for campaign cash

    Regardless of corporations, however, the reality is that the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are really just two large cash wielding organizations who run their own agenda. Without the support of one of these two giants, it is unlikely an individual will win or gain significant media attention Obviously sometimes independents win ... but not often; Democrats and Republicans are brand names.

    In the Information Age people should not need any campaign contributions. Each candidate should be able to upload information about their experience, accomplishments and (if they are an incumbent) their voting record on a website. The nation would be better served with less campaign signs, pamphlets, handouts and mailings cluttering the landscape and the airwaves.

    Better still, perhaps candidates should raise money but then put 100% that money to a cause (or causes) which best represent their values and the need for change they see in the world. It would not only benefit society but it would show the priorities of the candidate and their financial savvy to positively influence the world around them.