If you were paying attention, you know that the recent recall election in Wisconsin of Republican Gov. Scott Walker was unsuccessful. Walker was returned to the office of governor. Did you also know that Walker was able to spend eight times as much money on advertising as his opponent in the recall? And that most of Walker's money came from outside of the state of Wisconsin?
Neither of these facts - the ratio of monies spent or the out-of-state sources of money - seems consistent with our American democratic ideals. In fact, nothing about the way money flows in elections and influences our elections seems consistent with our ideals of democracy.
The problem is that the Supreme Court has ruled that money is speech, and, therefore, the freedom to spend money in elections is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
But, let's say that you and I are trying to influence the results of an election, and we each set up a soapbox on a particular corner in Marietta on a daily basis. We appear on our respective soapboxes regularly and speak to whatever citizens of Marietta will listen.
Now that is really about free speech, and it also fits well with democratic ideals.
But when you bring money to the equation, everything changes. Let's say that I have a lot of money, and I buy ad time on national TV that gives me 20 spots each day of highly dramatized three-minute ads. You, on the other hand, have very little money and your ad campaign consists of regular letters to the Marietta Times. Okay, we're each running for president of the United States: who do you think is going to win?
It's clear that adding money to the situation changes the game entirely. Obviously, I am able to exercise much more "free speech" than you are. In other words, you don't have a snowball's chance.
Isn't there a hidden assumption in the Supreme Court's position? Isn't that assumption something like "might - or money - makes right" or maybe more accurately, "wealth must equal power."
People always bring up the Founding Fathers. Do we really believe that this is the way they meant American elections to work? With multi-billion dollar ad campaigns? Are elections about our nation's needs, or are they really about money? And is it just a coincidence that most candidates for national office are wealthy?