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Campaign finance

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - On Thursday the Supreme Court, in a five to four decision, opened the door to nearly unlimited political campaign contributions.

The old federal law limited a single donor to $123,000 in any given two-year election cycle. Now the high court has ruled that those same donors, in the name of free speech, can pump in as much as $3.5 million.

It's a case called McCutchen vs the Federal Election Commission.

In this installment of Tom's Corner, Tom Van Howe says you can score another one for the rich guys.

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This is a frightening turn of event. What the court basically said yesterday, in furthering its notion that money and free speech go hand in hand, is that if you are very, very rich, you have the right not only to spend, but to be heard.

And if you are not rich, you also have the right to spend, but ought to know from the get go that you will very likely not be heard, that it will be highly unlikely that you'll have the ear of the voters.

You can yell as loud as you want, but whatever you say will be drowned out by the thunderous avalanche of big money.

By virtually doing away with what remained of our election finance laws, the court has simply tipped the scales in favor of the rich, and without any balance left, any sense of civic equality is gone.

Our democratic legitimacy is in danger.

I don't know what air the five justices breathe in their high court of chancery, but it's different stuff than what you and I are accustomed to.

In writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said he understands that politicians who are blessed with these newfound millions will be grateful to the donors and might be compelled to please them.

But that's okay he said, that's not corrosive, that's not corruption, that's our system proudly at work.

These rich people, Roberts said "supports candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who get elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns."

Really? A narrow, almost Boy Scoutish, 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' stamp of approval on what most of the rest of us think is all wrong about what goes on in Washington.

In other words, on the ground level, if you or I write or call a legislator with a suggestion or a complaint, we're apt to get a form letter in response, but if one of the exalted ones makes that same phone call it's perfectly acceptable if the legislator responds by chartering a jet to make things right.

This isn't about free speech, it's about who comes up with the biggest wad of cash.

Upon hearing what the court did yesterday, Senator John McCain expressed his disappointment.

"I predict again," McCain said, "there will be major scandals. There's too much money washing around."

Justice Stephen Breyer, dissenting from the bench, said the ruling "eviscerates our nation's campaign finance laws," and "fails to recognize the difference between influence resting upon public opinion and influence bought by money alone."

"Where money calls the tune," Breyer said, "those ideas, representing the voices of the people will not be heard."

In the weeks, months and years ahead, we'll be hearing a lot of music that we'll find disparagingly familiar, unpleasant music made perfectly acceptable by five members of the United States Supreme Court.

The rich guys have won another one. Can anyone say 'plutocracy?'

In this corner, I'm Tom Van Howe.

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