A head-scratching juxtaposition of stories appeared in the Post-Gazette on Thursday, April 3: one on the front page and the other on Page B1.
The front page announced that a bare majority of the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned a “key limit on campaign contributions” enacted in response to the Watergate scandal and previously upheld by the Supreme Court in 1976. Chief Justice John Roberts thereby extended his court’s problematic Citizens United decision against campaign financing laws by allowing individuals to give candidates and political parties as much money as the donor likes, without any overall limit. Justice Roberts’ rationale (or rationalization) for his opinions is that political contributions constitute a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment. In other words, “money is speech.”
Meanwhile, the Local News front page reported a new, ethics-based bipartisan measure banning Pennsylvania House of Representatives members from accepting any cash gifts from those “with an interest in state government,” including lobbyists (“House Leaders Impose Ban on Cash Gifts”).
It’s speculated that Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision will not herald an influx of more money into elections, save from those “who have a particular legal or administrative result in mind” — the very individuals referred to in Harrisburg as “with an interest”!
While underscoring the right “to participate in electing our political leaders,” Justice Roberts refuses to acknowledge any risk from allowing unlimited monetary influence over who will likely get elected and then controlling them in office. Our commonwealth legislators deserve credit for seeing through bribery’s manifold disguises.
WILLIAM J. BROWN