When it comes to elections, money matters. Big money sways elections: 93 percent of the time, the candidate with the most money wins. If you have the power to flood the political system with huge campaign donations, you have the power to win elections and fundamentally change the political landscape.
We already know about that in North Carolina. After the Supreme Court decided the Citizens United case in 2010 and allowed corporations to contribute unlimited amounts to super PACs, millionaire Art Pope pumped money into super PACs and nonprofit organizations he controlled, which then spread propaganda about non-existent voter fraud and funded the campaigns of sympathetic legislative candidates.
North Carolina already suffered under one ill-conceived Supreme Court decision, and now the court is considering making another one. On Tuesday, the court will hear oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC, in which Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon is asking the court to eliminate aggregate campaign limits. Those aggregate limits are the overall cap on the amount of money a person can give to candidates or political parties in a two-year cycle. Right now that cap is $123,200, but that’s not enough for McCutcheon, even though it is about two and a half times the median family income in North Carolina.
Imagine the effect that eliminating that cap would have. We would return to the time of huge, corrupting contributions of the Watergate scandal era. That’s what these caps were originally created to prevent. Without these limits, a single donor could give $1 million or more directly to candidates for Congress and their joint fundraising committees. Some, like Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, would go even further. His lawyer is telling the court that campaign money limits of any kind are wrong.
North Carolinians know that every voice and vote are sacred and that the size of your wallet shouldn’t determine the impact of your voice in a democracy. Unlimited money in politics will mean that government is not responsive to the interests of average Americans who are losing their voice in their government. That’s not the future Americans want to see.
North Carolina’s Moral Monday movement, led by the NAACP, is countering the big money tsunami with people power, and the movement is making the voices of North Carolinians heard, heavy wallets or not. Some of the most powerful people in our nation might like to silence those voices of ordinary Americans, but whether you are in the tea party or Occupy Wall Street movement, we can all agree that unlimited campaign donations are directly at odds with the principle of one person, one vote.
Across the country Americans are demanding change. From the drawing of fair boundaries for legislative districts to laws that make it easier to see where all the contributions come from, from small donor public financing to ensure clean and fair elections to a growing movement to amend the Constitution, Americans are finding ways to ensure our democracy remains of, by and for the people, not just the wealthy special interests. Now, it’s time for the Supreme Court to let common sense rule and uphold aggregate contribution limits.
Nick Nyhart is president and CEO of Public Campaign, a national organization working to raise the voices of everyday people in the political process.