By the usual 5-4 majority, the Supreme Court has overturned yet another limit on campaign contributions. In McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission the Republican majority strikes down the aggregate limit on individual campaign donations while retaining limits on the amount individuals can donate to individual candidates. Mr. McCutcheon felt his rights had been violated when he could not donate to as many candidates as he wanted without breaching the limit on total donations. Chief Justice Roberts agrees, ruling in the majority opinion that the aggregate limit can't be justified as a measure to prevent corruption. Plutocratic precedent since Buckley v. Valeo insists that corruption can only take the form of a quid-pro-quo arrangement of the sort that would be hard to distinguish from all the promises made during an election campaign. The "conservative" justices have argued consistently that the "influence" that comes from donations, or the ability to donate, isn't equivalent to corruption. In today's opinion, Roberts writes: "We have said that government regulation may not touch the general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or their allies, or the political access such support may afford." Only Justice Thomas is truly consistent, however, opposing even the limit on contributions to individual candidates, while the other conservatives, or Roberts at least, believe that it still serves an anti-corruption purpose. I'm not sure how that follows given how strictly the majority defines corruption, but I suppose we should be grateful.
Roberts seems to view distrust of money in politics as a form of bias, or as inherently partisan. "Money in politics may appear repugnant to some," he writes, "but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects. If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests [e.g. the late Rev. Phelps] and Nazi parades -- despite the profound offense such spectacles cause -- it surely protects political campaign speech [i.e. donations] despite popular opposition."
For all intents and purposes, the Roberts majority does not recognize plutocracy as a threat to democracy or even as a viable concept. For them, "plutocracy" is just a scare word coined by those who hate rich people. If so, it's a strange attitude to take at a time when Republicans are racing to Las Vegas to curry favor with the billionaire Sheldon Adelson -- nothing corrupt about that! I suspect that the Framers these "originalists" on the Court claim to revere would see things very differently -- but then again, they didn't have to worry about the cost of TV commercials.