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Long Live the Incumbents!

ByIan J. Roy

In politics, there’s nothing worse than a coordinated political ploy just before an election.

In this particular case, Senate Democrats didn’t stop at just the usual controversial bill; they introduced a dead-end Amendment to the United States Constitution to rile up their party’s base. The unfortunate and shocking aspect is that the Amendment would’ve effectively gutted free speech in the name of protecting incumbent politicians.

Of course this isn’t how the bill is being sold to the tens of millions of voters on partisan e-mailing and fundraising lists however. With the “War on Women” narrative losing traction and almost every poll and prediction coming out saying that Democrats will likely lose control of the Senate in 2014, party leaders will now harp on an old rallying cry, overturning the Citizens United decision.

If you don’t recall, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission involved a documentary filmmaker’s non-profit organization being forbidden from making a Pay-Per-View film about Hillary Clinton just months before the elections in 2008. This was due to the McCain-Feingold law, which banned corporations, non-profit issue organizations and unions from speaking ill of any Federal candidates within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election.

Now, you might say wait a minute… Isn’t 30-60 days before an election normally around the time that every citizen starts looking into whom they might vote for?

You’d be precisely correct.

The fact is that most Americans are too busy working full-time jobs, secondary jobs, raising families, and trying to enjoy a few moments of life during the rest of the year. Unless you’re a political junkie, you only start paying attention to races when they get down to the wire. What McCain-Feingold did, and what Udall’s S.J. Resolution 19 would have done, is ensure that just as we begin to pay attention, the only people telling us how to vote is the incumbents with their built-up war chests of cash.

“Congress and the States may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.”

The sentiment behind the law is understandable. What society would want only the richest of their members deciding whom our lawmakers will be? The knee-jerk urge is for arbitrary restrictions to be placed to try to obstruct the influence of the rich. What supporters of these proposals don’t understand is that dark money and mega-donors will ALWAYS find a way to their preferred politicians.

The most powerful players, from George Soros to Michael Bloomberg to Charles Koch, all have armies of lawyers, political connections and loosely associated organizations figuring out how to navigate campaign finance laws. Think of it in economic terms. When mountains of regulations are laid at the feet of business and industry, who is better positioned to come out on top? Is it the small companies struggling to survive or the giant corporations with million dollar legal teams?

The big and politically connected corporations will always weather the storm. They stand to be even better off in the aftermath, once their small-time competition is removed from the picture. This is exactly the power shift that we will face in elections if the goals of this Amendment are given serious consideration.

The more grassroots organizations that we take pride in supporting and identifying with will be the ones that will be shut up by this law, not the rich. Whether you are a member of the NRA, Greenpeace, a labor union such as SEIU, the National Taxpayers Union, or a civil liberties organization such as the ACLU or FreedomWorks, your issues and grievances will be silenced just when they need to be echoed the loudest. This law limits the marketplace of voices at election time to one, that of the powerful and wealthy incumbent.

You might ask, isn’t that the case now? As an individual who works for a small, 2-person, state based organization, I can tell you that we still have power in this system. I spend much of my time processing $10, $25, even $2 donations from countless supporters who simply want us to change the narrative being shoved down their throats by incumbent politicians and party bosses. We use minimal resources to speak to voters in a direct and down to Earth manner about what’s affecting their lives. Keeping our organization off of the TV and radio waves would simply silence the small-town voters that we help to represent.

You would think that with 15 of the top 20 big money donors from 1989-2014 being strongly Democratic leaning (including Goldman Sachs), and with the boogie men at Koch Industries only coming in at #58, the left would be a bit more cautious to use this as a partisan issue. In fact, if billionaires and millionaires can so easily purchase elections, why don’t we have a President Romney, a Governor Meg Whitman out in California or debates on President Perot’s reforms in the 90’s? Why did a freshman Senator from Chicago defeat the Clinton Empire in a ruthless primary campaign?

The truth is that American’s can smell a billionaire rat better than Senate Democrats and Senator McCain give them credit for. Manipulation of economic grievances is no reason to throw away free speech rights. When government stops picking winners and losers and inserting itself into every crevice of the economy, there will be far fewer billionaires inserting their check books into buying politicians and legislation. That is how we fix the problem, not by giving Harry Reid and John Boehner the power to decide who can speak to us before we vote.