CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Back in 1976, in the notorious Buckley v. Valeo decision, conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that buying political campaign ads amounts to "free speech," therefore it's unconstitutional for Congress or legislatures to limit the amount of money (speech) a millionaire or billionaire can spend to sway an election.
In 2010, in the notorious Citizens United ruling, conservative justices ruled that corporations are "persons" and thus entitled to free speech -- meaning that billion-dollar firms may funnel unlimited cash to elect their favorite politicians, usually Republicans.
That's how America sank into the pathetic spectacle of 2012, with billionaires and huge corporations using their wealth to buy the upcoming national election -- in hope of getting government favors in return. The money mostly is poured secretly into "super-PACs" that air smear ads to defame opposing candidates. How's that for free speech?
So far this year, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson sank $21 million into an effort to elect right-wing blowhard Newt Gingrich -- and when Gingrich got the rejection he deserved, Adelson flung $10 million more to a super-PAC backing Mitt Romney. The casino tycoon has boasted that he will spend up to $100 million in an attempt to defeat President Obama.
Think of that: Adelson has $100 million worth of free speech. How much free speech do average American families have? Why should a billionaire have vastly more political rights than ordinary folks? The Los Angeles Times said:
"The rich are on track to own the 2012 federal elections. Most candidates without wealthy patrons will be out of the mix. Voters' choices will be limited to those candidates who are most beholden to a tiny group of the most influential donors. ... Contribution sizes must be limited to take away the unfair advantage that the rich have in the democratic process."
Columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote that "the playing field this year is tilted sharply to the right" because of gigantic political donations to Republicans. He asked: "Those who claim that this is all about free speech need to explain how speech is free when one side can buy the microphone."
National Public Radio commentator Peter Overby said: "In six weeks this spring, so-called 'social welfare organizations' on the Republican side were able to outspend presumptive nominee Mitt Romney's own campaign on TV more than 5 to 1. The media blitz was completely financed by anonymous donors."
Recently, conservatives on the Supreme Court again upheld Citizens United. Maverick reform-minded Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, said this guarantees that America will remain a nation "of the rich, by the rich, for the rich."
Here in Charleston, four progressive groups will sponsor a forum on "Creating Democracy and Challenging Corporate Rule" at 7 p.m. Friday at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation on Kanawha Boulevard W. The speaker is to be reform lawyer David Cobb, who heads a drive to amend the U.S. Constitution to block billionaires from buying ballots.
We don't know whether an amendment effort has any chance for success. But it's clear that concerned people should fight however they can to oppose the takeover of elections by corporations and the 1 percent.