Monday, December 11, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: The selling of American democracy

The U.S. Supreme Court continues to link spending money with free speech so that Americans with the most cash have the loudest voices in elections. That ignores decades of established law, and it is a dangerous road for democracy. The court's latest attack on campaign contribution limits this week gives those with the deepest pockets even more influence, invites corruption and increases pressure on all citizens to ignore attack ads and become more independent-thinking participants in the electoral process.

The Supreme Court's most conservative justices struck down the limits on the combined total contributions that individual donors can give to federal candidates, political parties and other political committees. A single donor had been limited to giving no more than $123,200 in total contributions to federal candidates and committees in one election cycle. That is more than enough for all but the wealthiest contributors. Contribution limits of $5,200 per election cycle to individual federal candidates and other limits on contributions to each committee remain in place for now. But the court's 5-4 opinion in McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission removes the aggregate limits and enables wealthy donors to give the maximum to as many candidates and political committees as they want. That increases the influence of the few at the expense of the majority of Americans.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who wrote the plurality opinion, illogically argues that protecting the free speech rights of wealthy donors by overturning political contribution limits is no different from protecting the free speech rights of unpopular protests such as flag burning, funeral protests and Nazi parades. But free speech should not be directly tied to the amount of money one can spend. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a powerful dissent that described the importance of protecting the public interest in "collective speech" that is effectively drowned out by the millions spent by the wealthy few.

"The First Amendment advances not only the individual's right to engage in political speech,'' Breyer wrote, "but also the public's interest in preserving a democratic order in which collective speech matters.''

Limits on campaign contributions have been previously upheld to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption. Yet Roberts' pinched definition of corruption essentially would require bags of cash to be delivered to a member of Congress in return for a particular vote. He refuses to acknowledge that enormous political contributions corrupt the process. Breyer noted the appearance of corruption to Americans so disillusioned by the influence of money in politics and government further erodes our democracy.

The court's latest attack on contribution limits comes as no surprise. In recent years the Supreme Court eased rules about groups airing ads close to an election, and it overturned an effort to level the playing field for candidates facing rich, self-funded opponents. The 2010 Citizens United decision opened the floodgates for corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money and gave rise to the shadowy super political action committees that can drown out the candidates themselves.

Absent constitutional amendments or a more enlightened Supreme Court, there are a few ways to mitigate the damage. As Roberts noted, Congress could pass new limits on the way money is transferred — some would say laundered — through party and political committees. There also should be more effort to report all campaign contributions faster and online, so at least voters can track who is giving how much to whom.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court has increased the responsibility of citizens to participate in democracy. The court is making it easier for the wealthy to buy control of government. The best antiseptic is for Americans to pay closer attention, hold elected leaders accountable for their actions — and vote.

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Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over stateís rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week wonít make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, itís obvious that Jeff Vinikís plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

It is dangerous and illegal to text while driving in Florida, and police should be able to pull over and ticket those lawbreakers without witnessing another violation first. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has lent his powerful voice to legislation th...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Editorial: Outsourcing common sense on St. Petersburg Pier naming rights

St. Petersburg officials predict that selling the naming rights to parts of the new Pier could generate $100,000 in annual revenue. But first the city wants to pay a consultant to tell it how and to whom to sell the rights. Why do city officials need...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Another voice: Trumpís risky move

President Donald Trumpís decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israelís capital has a certain amount of common sense on its side. As a practical matter, West Jerusalem has been the seat of Israeli government since 1949, and no conceivable formula for Pa...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

A tactical retreat and regrouping seems to be paying off for Hillsborough Countyís Museum of Science and Industry. After paring back its operations, the museum posted a small profit over the past year, enabling the attraction to keep its doors open a...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Voters in Temple Terrace, Plant City and Thonotosassa have an easy choice in the Dec. 19 special election to replace state Rep. Dan Raulerson, who resigned for health reasons. Republican Lawrence McClure is the only credible candidate.McClure, 30, ow...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

It has been 1,979 days since all heck broke loose in the flood insurance industry. Apparently, that just wasnít enough time for Washington to react. So with the National Flood Insurance Program set to expire on Friday, itís looking increasingly likel...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17

Editorial: St. Petersburg should raise rates for reclaimed water

Raising rates on reclaimed water in St. Petersburg is an equitable way to spread the pain of paying for millions in fixes to the cityís dilapidated sewer system. The city has no choice but to start charging utility customers more as the sewer bills c...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17