But there’s a tiny bit of hope, as inadequate as it may be: disclosure. More of it. Lots of it.
Yes, it’s frustrating to say the very best we can do is figure out who’s buying our democracy, rather than, say, preventing them from buying it in the first place. But, as Loyola Law School associate clinical professor Jessica Levinson told me on Wednesday, it may be all we have left.
Help me, disclosure. You’re my only hope!
And that brings us back to the question I began with: What now?
I asked Levinson whether, in light of today’s decision, as well as 2010’s Citizens United, there was a way to write a campaign-finance law that could both limit the influence of money in politics and survive constitutional scrutiny from the court’s sitting majority. The depressingly brief answer: Nope.
“We no longer have the tools to regulate what we wanted to regulate in the first place,” said Levinson, who says she’s worried that even base contribution limits may fall soon, too. “I’m very pessimistic in the short term. I think this is our new normal.”
I asked if this ruling wasn’t really addressed to — and concerned about — the wealthy. After all, how many lower and middle class people can even afford to give the minimum donation of $2,600 per election, much less decide how to spend millions among multiple candidates? Regular people giving a nominal amount, say, $200, would have to number 490,000 simply to equal the $98 million that billionaire Las Vegas Sands CEO gave to candidates and causes in 2012 alone.
“Our voices are increasingly muffled,” Levinson said. “We should be speakers, too. … There are only five people in America who don’t think large amounts of contributions don’t influence elections, and they’re all on the court.”
Levinson noted that disclosure, while helpful, is only a partial remedy, and one that doesn’t stop wealthy donors from having an outsized voice in the political debate. But she said it may be the only remedy available, given the court’s recent rulings.
“At some point, I think the court will say that’s all you have left,” she said.
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