America has seen some impressive winning streaks -- the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan, the New York Yankees for half the 20thcentury, Tiger Woods until his wife caught him with his putter on the wrong green --– but few can surpass the string of wins being racked up by rich people. And now, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservatives, the super-wealthy can take another victory lap.
On Wednesday, in a 5-4 ruling, the highest court in the land took one more big step toward eliminating all the campaign finance laws that have been enacted since the Watergate scandal in the 1970s. This time they struck down limits on the amount of money any individual can give to candidates running for the House and Senate.
Following the earlier Citizens United ruling that said corporations are free to spend as much money as they want to independently influence election campaigns, this new decision further enhances the power of millionaires and billionaires in the American political process.
“Taken together with Citizens United, today’s decision eviscerates our nation’s campaign finance laws,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer said in his dissent from the ruling. Some observers predict that the path is now open for the court to kill every remaining restraint on spending in elections.
By the presidential campaign in 2020, the role of money in American politics is likely to have returned to the unencumbered condition of the 1890s Gilded Age when rich robber barons could spend freely to buy a compliant Congress that would look after their interests.
That era was good for the rich, but, as the century turned, those with great fortunes began to feel the squeeze. Politicians they could not buy instituted child labor laws, a 40-hour workweek, an eight-hour workday, regulations on food safety, the income tax and the first protections for the environment. By the time of the Eisenhower administration, the tax rate on the rich was at the highest level in U.S. history, while the gap between the wealthy and the poor was the smallest and the middle class was the strongest.
In the 1980s, though, the Reagan Revolution returned conservatives to power and a new winning streak for the rich began. Taxes on big money started a long downward slide, pay packages for corporate executives skyrocketed and the financial sector dislodged itself from the rest of the economy by creating vast new wealth from thin air. Even when the economic collapse of 2008 hit, most rich people were insulated from its effects. They just continued to grow richer.
Today, the divide between the top 1% and everyone else is as wide as it has ever been and one political party is single-mindedly devoted to opposing any effort by the other party to narrow that gap. That party is the Republican, and they are celebrating the latest Supreme Court decision with great enthusiasm. They know most of the additional millions of dollars that rich people can now spend on campaigns will be directed to them.
It will be the Republicans’ reward -- an investment by the rich to guarantee that their winning streak goes on and on.