Bill Moyers on Dollars versus Democracy, aka Supreme Court Case McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission

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Yves here. With the deficit showdown consuming so much media attention, a lot of important stories are not getting the attention they warrant. One is a case before the Supreme Court, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which many have called Citizens United 2.0. Bill Moyers and his guest, Yale Law School election and constitutional law professor Heather Gerken, discuss how this case has the potential to further erode campaign finance laws and increase the already considerable influence that monied interests have on politics.

McCutcheon challenges overall limits on individual political donors. The current aggregate cap is $123,200 per person (the real kind, not the corporate kind) per two-year election cycle. McCutcheon could raise that limit to more than $3.5 million.

You can also read a transcript of the segment here.

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  1. John Jones

    To me this is the most important issue.
    Why is there no large outcry to have zero
    money in politics?

    1. John Jones

      “Too much money in politics”
      “Always gonna be money in politics”

      How about no damn money in politics. Is that so extreme?

      1. Carla

        I’m with you JJ. But first we have to establish that only people (not corporations, unions or incorporated political parties) are entitled to Constitutional rights, and that spending money is not a right protect by the First Amendment.

        Please support the Move to Amend:

        Citizens in over 500 municipalities nationwide have passed ballot issues or resolutions stating that the people of those communities support a Constitutional Amendment stating that Corporations Are Not People and Money Is Not Speech.

        We got more 3,000 signatures to put this on the ballot in my city and on Nov. 5, 2013, we certainly hope it will pass.

        We are doing this completely non-partisan work at the grassroots level, because it’s the only place we CAN do it.

        Please join us.

          1. craazyboy


            First Amendment = “Money Talks”


            Like money ever needed any help in that regard.

    2. Banger

      Because, in the USA, money has a sacred quality to it. It is the ultimate arbiter of all morality. Until the culture changes it’s hard to see how money cannot continue to be the main expression of political power.

      1. tts

        Most people disliked the CU ruling and wouldn’t like it if this one allowed the cap to go over $5 million…but most people’s needs aren’t being met by our govt. or courts right now.

        That is what happens when a bunch of unethical people who don’t believe govt. should do anything or that it is their mission in life to “shrink govt. down to the size of something that could be drowned in a bathtub” get into power.

      2. sue


        abolished campaign contributions several years ago, experienced no Wall $treet economic debacle caused by DEregulatory legislation led by $$$$ influence.

        Reading Sheila Bair’s, “Bull By the Horns” $$$$ influence is what caused levels of risk taken with other people’s money, leading to what William K Black describes as “criminogenic accounting fraud”.

        Don’t take my word for it

    3. bob goodwin

      What exactly is the difference between speech and money? If I told you that you could say whatever you wanted as long as nobody was listening, that is hardly speech. For speech to be amplified it needs a channel. Sure there are viral communications, but most communication is subsidized somehow. Who pays for it? MSNBC has a powerful microphone that is subsidized by advertisement. But it is still speech backed by money. So we should ask MSNBC to be silent on politics? Or should we carve out exceptions for some types of subsidized speech, for example journalists? Is Yves a journalist? Is Wikileaks?

      It turns out that money is speech. And that restricting money is simply a way to diminish certain influences.

      1. sue


        Money is PROPERTY. It is ILLEGAL to influence legislation by giving PROPERTY.
        Several politicians have been convicted of accepting PROPERTY to influence their legislative decisions.

        Speech is NOT money.

  2. Banger

    Gerken and Moyers are advocates for reform and adjustment. Their position is that if we could only move the money issue a little bit to the left, label the money for voters, maybe limit total spending the advantage of the oligarchs would be somewhat lessened. Certainly the case they are discussing is important–will the Supremes opt for a naked oligarchy or maintain the slightly more veiled one we have?

    Moyers intro is actually more interesting than the main body of the interview. He is saying, in effect, that there was a conspiracy of RP operatives based at Heritage to defund Obamacare even if it meant shutting down the gov’t. We need to understand that plots and conspiracies in this gov’t or any government is ubiquitous. If there’s anything the public needs to understand it is that events that have a major effect usually don’t just “happen” out of the blue without any cause. The American media has had a tendency to view events as isolated–they believe demonstrations against governments in other countries just happen, as in Syria and Libya, for example, out of a need of “the people” to achieve “freedom.” The same is true of right-wing populism in the U.S.–whenever it arises spontaneously, as it did during the Wall Street bailout, it is quickly seized by armies of PR and political operatives and shaped into “movements” like the Tea Party very quickly. The power of the right to shape opinion is stunning because they view this as a war and act accordingly. The polite musings of Moyers and the people he interviews are good and informative but they fail to point out that this is not a matter of competing world-views–what we are seeing in Washington is a vicious struggle for power with no holds barred the right views this as war. Yet, liberals and progressives keep being polite and “balanced.” Yes, these are good qualities and should be front and center of any leftist perspective–but we need to see it within a holistic context–we are in a struggle against forces, frankly, that represent radical evil. Not that all people on the right are “evil” but the main backers of this movement are evil (by my definition of the term) and what they want is or ought to be very clear. What I don’t see is a sense of urgency. I don’t want to put down Moyers here who, obviously, cannot be as vehement about these issues–he’s been able to skate a very thin line for decades and has done it very well.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      I assume you are talking about what the NPR “higher ups” find acceptable when you say Moyers has walked a fine line for decades. I agree, he’s done incredibly well to remain the token liberal for an increasingly right wing faux progressive pablum outlet.

      But it’s his “reasonableness”, particularly his obvious decency, which is so attractive to large numbers of people who would otherwise probably never get any information if confronted by those with more of an edge – even if that edge is far more appropriate to the circumstances. When Moyers discussed the reasons Martha Coakley failed in her bid for Ted Kennedy’s Senate vacancy, I wanted to throw things at the TV. Neither Moyers nor any of his guests even mentioned anything about he fact that she was such an obvious treacherous Vichy Democrat. But then I think of all those people who he is helping to open their eyes or the fact that Moyer’s is the one who introduced me and others to people such as Glen Greenwald and I find his approach of reform and adjustment a lot more palatable.

      1. H. Alexander Ivey

        BB, you are quite right. Gerken and Moyers are well meaning people but their basic assumption is the system is fundamentally sound and fair, it’s the edges that are weak and need correcting. They are incorrect. It is the other way around, the core is weak and needs correcting. All their arguments start with “Today we are okay, but tomorrow looks bad…”. So they don’t give solutions to real problems since, to them, the problems have not happened yet. HA!

        – it’s about the vote – Moyers. Really? What has changed with the people voting? What problems have been addressed or corrected?

        Then, on a close reading, they admit that there is no effective limit on campaign contributions (bribery). It’s weird, they see, they describe, but they refuse to draw the obvious, adult conclusions.

    2. Hugh

      There are liberals and progressives in Washington??? Where?

      If you want to say that Washington has an assortment of faux progressives, career progressives, and Establishment liberals, I would agree with you. All these groups support and defend the system which is looting us.

      Where we differ is that I think your critique of conservatives is applicable to our political classes and elites in general.

      1. Banger

        There are progressives in Washington one of them is called Ralph Nader and there are many others of that ilk but they have little power because they don’t being weapons to meetings.

  3. TomDority

    “and increase the already considerable influence that monied interests have on politics.”

    If, by ‘considerable influence’ you mean something like: the lioness attacked and killed the Gazelle, and is filling it’s belly with the last scraps while fending off the vultures. Thus, the lion has ‘considerable influence’ over the Gazelle’s life…… well then, yes, I agree.

  4. Yancey Ward

    If I and ten friends decided to take out ads in the Cincinnati Enquirer advocating that people vote for John Boehner’s opponent in the November 2014 election, what sort of limit should be put on our expenditures?

    As for the present case, the arguments for the aggregate limit don’t really make any sense as this case isn’t about changing the limit on donations to particular candidate, thus you lose the argument on the basis of appearances of corruption.

    1. Phil Perspective

      If I and ten friends decided to take out ads in the Cincinnati Enquirer advocating that people vote for John Boehner’s opponent in the November 2014 election, what sort of limit should be put on our expenditures?

      Depends on what the ads say. How do you even know the Cincinnati Enquirer will even run it?

  5. USGrant

    One of the strings I hold on to for hope is They are atempting to get State Legislators to call for a Articlce 5 convention to pass an admendment changing this gross injustices.

  6. Jack Parsons

    I don’t know the timeline of this suit, but I really with the Left would stop fights to the Supremes with this much to lose? An appellate loss is something you can fight again another day, when you have a better chance to win in the top court.

    The Right plays a long game, and that’s why they have done so well. Don’t play a short game, and for gods’ sakes play offense and not defense.

  7. Minor Heretic

    Money is voting. In the past few rounds of congressional primaries, whoever spent the most money won over 95% of the time. The high spenders outspent the #2 spenders an average of 3 to 1. Most of the money showed up in big chunks from millionaires. Ergo, anyone with opinions that might offend millionaires got filtered out before the general election 95+% of the time.

    Here’s a proposal based on the money=vote concept. No overall spending (= vote) limits on candidates, but two rules:

    1) Constituency. People can only donate to a candidate or a ballot initiative campaign that they are eligible to vote for. No Californians donating to candidates in Texas or vice versa. Residents of Ohio congressional district #1 cannot donate to the campaign of a candidate for Ohio district #2. That also means only citizens eligible to vote.

    2) Affordability. The maximum annual campaign donation to any candidate, party, or campaign is 8 hours wages at the federal minimum wage. Right now that’s $58. You can donate $58, David Koch can donate $58, and the guy who mows Koch’s lawn can donate $58. It’s like having an equally valued vote.

    You want to form an independent group to campaign for a senatorial candidate? Fine. That candidate must be from your state, and every contributor to your group must be from your state. Each contributor can pony up $58 a year for the campaign. But only that independent campaign and not also directly to the candidate. One “vote” per.

    I consider our national period of (rough) democracy to be from the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the Buckley v Valeo decision in 1976. It is interesting to me that indicators of blue colar and middle class prosperity flattened out right after that.

    1. Carla

      MH, I agree with everything you said.

      And, to get it done, we’re going to have to amend the Constitution to clearly state that only human beings are entitled to Constitutional rights AND money is not equivalent to political speech, and therefore money in campaigns can be regulated.

      THEN, we might be able to get to your prescriptions.

      1. Minor Heretic

        Carla, we are of one mind. It is going to take an amendment. The present SCOTUS would certainly strike down any legislative attempt at democracy. (Wow, that sentence sounds insane, but it’s the truth)

Comments are closed.