CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This morning at 11:30 a.m., several West Virginia reform groups are to rally at the Legislature to protest the corrupting influence of money in elections. West Virginians for Democracy, the state Citizen Action Group and others will assemble in the rotunda under the gold dome of the State Capitol.
They're trying to reverse harm done to America's political process by several notorious U.S. Supreme Court decisions, as follows:
In 1976, in the Buckley v. Valeo case, conservative justices ruled that cash equals "free speech," therefore laws can't limit sums that millionaires and billionaires donate to buy campaign ads. Most of their money goes to Republicans, much of it for smear "spots" on television. Thanks to the Buckley ruling, the rich have vastly more "free speech" than other Americans. With no limits on contributions, they can try to buy elections.
In 1978, in the Bellotti case, conservative justices ruled that corporations, as well as people, enjoy "free speech" and thus may give money for political ads.
In 2010, in the Citizens United case, conservative justices reiterated that corporations are "persons" who are entitled to the same free speech as other Americans. Therefore, huge firms can dump millions into elections, mostly to back conservative candidates. Often the donors hide their identities by giving through front committees.
During the 2012 election, some Democrats feared that the avalanche of cash from corporations and the wealthy would sweep President Obama from office. Amid the heat of the campaign, The Los Angeles Times warned:
"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."
Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson poured more than $100 million into Republican Mitt Romney's campaign. Other tycoons gave lesser fortunes. They failed -- but Adelson vows to spend even more in 2014 and 2016.
Maverick Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said this cash flow threatens to give America a government "of the rich, by the rich, for the rich."
The reformers who will rally this morning want the Legislature to join a national attempt to change the U.S. Constitution. "West Virginia could be the 12th state to call for an amendment to get big money out of politics," the groups say.
Revising the Constitution requires a difficult, lengthy struggle. We don't know whether there's any realistic chance of success. But we don't know any other way to curb the corrupting flood of cash that taints American elections.