Bob Kerrey: the Supreme Court Election Funding Decision Is Wrong

As members of Care2, we make it our business to act every day to help right the myriad wrongs we see in our country and world. The concern Care2 members have shown for the victims in Haiti in recent days is a perfect case in point. 

Often, the wrongs we seek to right are specific to one issue or another in our public life. But sometimes, as today, a blow is dealt to the very institutions of our democracy and our very ability as a people to implement necessary change. The problem I have in mind is bigger than healthcare, global warming, and the economy because it cuts to the heart of every big issue we face. 

The problem is big money in politics. And never has it been on clearer display than in the aftermath of a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court today. 

The symptoms of this problem are clear.

Instead of doing the nation’s business, elected officials are spending a third of their time or more dialing for special interest dollars in never-ending campaigns for reelection. Industry lobbyists are helping to write the very bills in Congress that affect their bottom line, placing private profit ahead of the public good. Billions of taxpayer dollars are going to benefit big contributors through earmarks, subsidies, and special regulations. And that is only the beginning.

We’ve known this all along. Nine in ten Americans believe Congress does not listen to the needs of average citizens. Eight in ten are concerned that big spending by big interests is preventing Congress from meeting the enormous challenges facing our nation today. 

And just when we thought that corporations had amassed as much political power as any non-human legal entity lacking constitutional protection possibly could, a slim majority of the U.S. Supreme Court today decided otherwise. Led by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court has overturned decades’ worth of established precedent limiting corporate money in federal elections in Citizens United v. FEC, thereby opening the floodgates to unlimited corporate spending.

What does this ruling mean? Consider the influence a single corporation like Exxon Mobil could wield in the upcoming energy and climate debate if it is able to not only lobby on Capitol Hill but spend unlimited sums on the election or defeat of candidates. With $85 billion in profits during the 2008 election, Exxon Mobil would have been able to fully fund over 65,000 winning campaigns for U.S. House or outspend every candidate by a factor of 90 to 1. That’s a scary proposition when you consider that the health of our planet is at stake. 

The Supreme Court and the special interests have spoken. It’s time for the people to respond. 

That’s where you come in. Believe it or not, there’s a solution to this problem already working in seven states and now moving ahead in Congress. The Fair Elections Now Act, introduced by congressional leaders in the Senate and House, would let qualifying candidates combine small citizen donations with matching public funds rather than campaign on corporate money. It’s picked up over 120 bipartisan cosponsors who are sick and tired of dialing for special interest dollars, and the program has long been upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court.

Because free speech isn’t free when only the rich are heard, the Fair Elections Now Act would cherish the First Amendment by providing opportunities for real political expression to qualified candidates regardless of party, wealth, or personal connections. In return, those candidates would say no to special interest contributions so they’re beholden to the voters alone.

As a former U.S. Senator, I got to experience the thrill of public service and the frustration of a system increasingly beholden to special interests. But for all the mounting influence of big money in Washington, one thing at least remains true today as it did when I served: the voices of citizens standing firm for positive change can and do get through. I can think of countless times in the Senate when hearing from my constituents gave me the firepower to act on an important conviction and made all the difference.

We know the problem, we know the solution, and now is the time for change. I ask you to tell your representatives in Washington that you’re counting on them to end the endless money chase and restore public confidence in government by cosponsoring the Fair Elections Now Act today. And I urge you to multiply your impact by recruiting your friends and neighbors to the cause, writing and calling your representatives and local press, visiting their district offices, and joining the You Street campaign.

The overwhelming majority of Americans support Fair Elections, Congressional leaders say they support our bill, and the President has said he’ll sign it into law. Now it’s up to us. Click here to join the thousands of Americans telling Congress and the Supreme Court that the days of big money in Washington are numbered and the time for real reform is now!

New School President Bob Kerrey, Vietnam veteran, 9/11 Commission Member, former Nebraska Senator and Governor and Congressional Medal of Honor Winner, is a Co-Chair of Americans for Campaign Reform and the You Street initiative for public funding.   

Americans for Campaign Reform
by Former Senator Bob Kerrey


Paul P.
Paul P.7 years ago

Excellent, John. Remember Sen Graham and wife Wendy personally profited millions from deregulation for financial interests, yet they have not been prosecuted for selling their votes and influence. Like in Tunisia, Egypt, etc., Madison, we Americans are going to have to seize self-government from autocrats. It is no longer election politics as usual. Tyrants won't allow fair elections. They make too much money when government doesn't work and people suffer, starve and die to make their balance sheet rise.

Gregory A.
Greg Amour7 years ago

Everyone who wanted progress MUST go out and vote against the G NO P! The Republicans are accepting $75 million from unknown sources who refuse to reveal themselves. Call it legalized(by the 5 conservative members of the Supreme Court) bribery. But it is clear that the Republican agenda is simply to gain power at the expense of the middle class. It was Bush and deregulation of the Banks, mortgage companies, and Wall Street that caused this economic mess. Not even Iron Man could repair it with a snap of the fingers. The Party of NO has sabotaged efforts to improve it just to keep things bad so they could manipulate anger into power. You MUST defeat this cynical, money accepting party from giving back to their corporate sponsors their soul for $$$$ (75 million worth). DO NOT SIT THIS ONE OUT. If you do, EVIL and GREED and EXTREMISTS will prevail! VOTE! Damn it, YOU MUST VOTE!

Ellinor S.
Ellinor S7 years ago

thank you

Elodia Resendez
Elodia R8 years ago

Maybe now that health care reform is about done, the recalcitrant congress will take action. We need to keep pushing them.

Ellinor S.
Ellinor S8 years ago

thank you

Elodia Resendez
Elodia R8 years ago

We take too much, praying and hoping that our elected leaders will do the right thing. Instead, they waste so much time infighting and trying to get consensus. How long should we listen to "no we can't do this, no we can't do that" before we let them know we have had enough. How many of us would get away with behaving in such negative ways at work?

Joy L.
Joy L8 years ago

This is absolutely preposterous ... the leaders of our beloved nation ... where are you??? Stand up with us ... the people! PLEASE!

Joel Scott S.
Joel Scott S8 years ago

We cannot let the powerful and the ultarich control the way this country is being dominated. Our Founding Fathers (I am sure, the Founding Mothers too)have met the United States of America to be for all.

Danell A.
Danell A8 years ago

Thank you for the article & I do believe and feel that big money should not be involved. Also it should be a LAW on the number of years and terms they can serve to begin with, because the current system really sucks and no new people with fresh ideas are in office.

Kay B.
Kay Beams8 years ago

We need people in our government who have the best interests of the people in mind--not their own funding and special interests. This is completely unacceptable.