Money in Politics Survey Shows the Toxic Legacy of the Roberts Court

The New York Times published a poll this morning that reveals - not at all surprisingly - that overwhelming majorities of Americans are thoroughly fed up with money in politics.

Among the findings:

  • Fewer than a third of Americans think all Americans have an equal chance to influence the elections process, while two-thirds say that the wealthy have more influence.
  • 85% said our system for funding political campaigns either needs fundamental changes or, even more, needs to be rebuilt completely.
  • Nearly three in five are pessimistic that changes will be made to improve campaign funding.

So a substantial majority of Americans think that the wealthy few have so much sway over elected officials that changes wanted by 85% of the population will not be made.

Such a lack of faith in the ability of our electoral system to channel popular will cannot be healthy for a democracy. For this, we can thank the Roberts Court, which helped create this situation with decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon.

The far right conservatives on the Supreme Court have severely narrowed the permissible goals of laws regulating money in politics. They acknowledge that laws can be passed to prevent corruption and its appearance, but they have reduced that concept to little more than outright bribery. In other words, the current 5-4 majority on the Court has ruled that our elected governments cannot pass laws to address the arrogation of political influence and power by campaign funders with vast concentrations of wealth. When a narrow sliver of the nation's wealthiest individuals and families are able to leverage their political spending into special attention and favorable treatment from elected officials, democracy is not harmed in the eyes of the Roberts Court, but is instead working the way it is supposed to. It's simply constituents supporting candidates they support, and elected officials being appropriately responsive to their concerns.

So five years after Citizens United, it is not surprising that so many Americans have so little faith in the ability of our electoral democracy to function properly. This is just another part of the toxic legacy of the Roberts Court.

But it isn't the end of the story. As Americans' level of revulsion at the extent of money in politics continues to rise, elected officials will eventually have to take notice. It will not be the first time that a popular movement has prompted electoral and political changes too strong to be stopped by those who President Theodore Roosevelt once called the malefactors of great wealth. As with movements of the past, the will of the many can overcome the might of a few.

PFAW Foundation