Last week, the Supreme Court eliminated limits on how much money individuals can donate to all campaigns in any two-year election cycle and NBC’s David Gregory lamented how “American democracy is for sale.”
Appearing on “Meet the Press” on Sunday April 6, Gregory asked Shaun McCutcheon, the plaintiff in McCutcheon v. FEC: “How do you have candidates in the future now going to the wealthiest donors in the country and saying I want an unlimited amount of money? How does that is not at some-point lead to corruption?” [See video below.]
Gregory continued to worry about the repercussions of the ruling, and hit McCutcheon from the left: “If I'm a person of great means and I've got all these candidates saying I want an unlimited amount of money, do you not worry that leads to corruption at some point?”
Gregory then complained about the Supreme Court decision from the left, this time asking his liberal guest Robert Weismann of Public Citizen: “So Shaun McCutcheon as an individual may have his free speech being honored here but is he going to count as much as the wealthy? The super wealthy in trying to influence elections?”
Rather than consider that the court’s ruling was a victory for free speech, Gregory groaned, “Do you worry that ultimately there's a quid pro quo? In the Watergate era is what really brought on the idea of more of these regulations. Is that what you see here?
Despite McCutcheon reiterating that the case “is about freedom of speech” Gregory continued to carp “Why you think as an individual you'll have as much power as the mega rich who not only can fund a super-PAC but can also empower committees to get together to influence an issue much more than an individual campaign or an individual can.”
It’s amazing that the liberal Gregory was so eager to cast doubt on an individual’s first amendment right to engage in unlimited free speech. Rather than respect the idea that this ruling instilled this fundamental constitutional right, the NBC host seemed more concerned about the “mega rich” influencing elections, a point that was echoed by numerous liberals following the court’s ruling.
See relevant transcript below.
Meet the Press
April 6, 2014
10:43 a.m. Eastern
DAVID GREGORY: We'll switch gears now and talk about the issue of money in politics. And the debate over whether American democracy is for sale. In a 5-4 decision the Supreme Court eliminated limits how much money individuals can donate in any two-year election cycle. A separate limit on how much can be donated to a single candidate remains in place. To debate the ramifications of the ruling, I'm joined by the man who won that case, Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon and Robert Weismann president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, which argues for additional campaign finance limits. Welcome to both of you. Certainly a fascinating issue. Here's my thing, Mr. McCutcheon. As you look at this, here's a new reality, right? American democracy for sale. How do you have candidates in the future now going to the wealthiest donors in the country and saying I want an unlimited amount of money? How does that is not at some-point lead to corruption?
SHAUN MCCUTCHEON: Well, again, I think this is an issue about independent private people exercising free speech and regardless of economic status, all Americans are entitled to free speech. So this is a first amendment guaranteed right under the constitution. All Americans are entitled to-
GREGORY: And the Supreme Court agreed with you in a 5-4 decision and has upheld that. But if you sit back as a citizen and say I want to be politically involved. And if I'm a person of great means and I've got all these candidates saying I want an unlimited amount of money, do you not worry that leads to corruption at some point?
MCCUTCHEON: Well, I am a citizen. I'm interested in being involved in the process. I'm interested in change for the better. That's what motivated me to support candidates. And again, it's about your right to support as many candidates, committees and PACS you choose. It's a political activity. It's like Roberts said, it's the most fundamental right in this country is our right as the people to select our leaders.
GREGORY: So here's what Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in a dissenting opinion. In part he writes this. What has had to do with corruption? It has everything to do with corruption where enough money calls the tune the general public will not be heard, Robert Weissman. So Shaun McCutcheon as an individual may have his free speech being honored here but is he going to count as much as the wealthy? The super wealthy in trying to influence elections?
ROBERT WEISMANN: Well, what the court decided was that individuals have the right, a first amendment right to give up to $5.9 million to candidates, parties and political committees. There are only a few hundred people in this country who have the wherewithal to do that and are showing the inclination to do that. They're going to do it and they're going to expect something back in return. And exactly as Justice Breyer said, what that means is that those people have the stranglehold over how the process works and everybody else is left out of the game.
MCCUTCHEON: All the money in politics is still out there. There's lots of money in politics. Again, individual people exercising freedom of speech is a good thing. Bringing competition to the process. I mean, how are these candidates, these good managerial type candidates that can't self-fund, the candidate, him or herself can donate infinite money to their own campaign. What about candidates that can't, you know, afford that? You know, they need donors, individual private donors like me and others that can donate directly to their campaigns and we shouldn't be limited to nine candidates or ten candidates.
GREGORY: But the issue that I'm getting to is you as an individual with free speech to be able to give to as many candidates as you want, do you really have the kind of say as the political parties will had strengthened here. Outside groups will be strengthened, those who would come together in a committee fashion. Won’t they overwhelm the individuals' ability? Robert let me start with you. To have the kind of impact that Mr. McCutcheon says is so important?
WEISMANN: Well, first of all when Mr. McCutcheon says he wants to support a lot of candidates he is free to do that and he was free to do that before the decision. He's not really talking about support. He's not talking about handing out leaflets or putting up a sign in his yard. He's talking about the ability to the give money to candidates. And that's not the same thing. And it doesn't deserve the same kinds of first amendment protection. Now the people who do have the wherewithal and inclination to give multimillion dollar checks to party leaders they are going to have a lot of influence for sure, but it's going to be at the expense of the rest of us.
GREGORY: Do you worry that ultimately there's a quid pro quo? In the Watergate era is what really brought on the idea of more of these regulations. Is that what you see here?
WEISMANN: Well I think that's for sure going to happen. Now the Chief Justice said that's the only thing we should think about is whether there's quid pro quo meaning bribery as he described it. That's actually is going to be a problem with this much money sloshing around. But the bigger problem is bought access, bought influence and a tilted playing field. The chief justice said, well actually we don't care about those things. But the American people do care about those things and they should.
GREGORY: But to Mr. McCutcheon's point, kind of like when you try to keep water out of the basement and you try and seal the basement. Water finds its own level and always finds a way into the basement. Money is in politics in a huge way. Wouldn't you rather have it be more transparent, not Citizens United, the knock against of course was that was it created outside groups that didn't have to disclose. Here you have money coming in at least the political parties are strengthened. Perhaps you have more transparency.
WEISMANN: Well, you’re right. There's a problem with the existing system. It wasn’t a good system. It was a massively broken system before the decision in McCutcheon v. FEC. What we really need is a constitutional amendment to sweep away what the Supreme Court is done and make it possible for we the people to exercise some sensible control over how our elections are run.
GREGORY: You'd like to see this go further. As I said at the top, as an individual, you still have an individual cap on what you can give to a candidate. Justice Thomas said that should have been done away with, as well. Would you like to see that happen?
MCCUTCHEON: Well, I've been saying the whole time that I thought some base limits made some sense but I think they're a low number because you can't buy many ads with $5200. Again, this is about freedom of speech and an individual and it's funny how he believes it's about we the people. That's what I believe. I believe it's about individuals. The same kind of individuals that came here in search of freedom and opportunity.
GREGORY: But you're still not answering why you think as an individual you'll have as much power as the mega rich who not only can fund a super-PAC but can also empower committees to get together to influence an issue much more than an individual campaign or an individual can.
MCCUTCHEON: Well, again, it’s a fundamental right of selecting our leaders by the people. We don't need the government to select our leaders. We need the people to select the leaders. It's about political assembly. It's a fundamental, most important right.
WEISMANN: We do need we the people to select the leaders. The problem is when a few hundred people are able to spend multimillion dollars over the electoral process. They are the ones who have an outsized influence over electing our leaders and deciding what those leaders are going to do once they're in office.
GREGORY: Are you for total transparency? If you give a check, should a campaign immediately put that up on their website so everybody can see it was from you.
MCCUTCHEON: I’m for transparency, yes, sir.
GREGORY: That total transparency doesn't seem to be working through Congress yet. Doesn't even have support for it.
MCCUTCHEON: Well, these donations we're talking about are transparent donations. They're all reported.
GREGORY: Alright, we'll see where Congress wants to get involved now. Thanks to both of you very much.