Ex-Justice Stevens: Unlimited Donations Threaten Democracy

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Monday, 21 Apr 2014 07:05 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The Supreme Court's decision to allow political donations to an unlimited number of federal candidates was a mistake, retired Justice John Paul Stevens says, adding the court decided "the voter is less important than the man who provides money to the candidate."

Stevens, who retired in 2010, told The New York Times that there is a flaw in the campaign finance ruling, and he wants a constitutional amendment to address what he calls a threat to U.S. democracy caused by the influence of money in politics.

While Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. started his opinion in the campaign finance case by saying that "there is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders," Stevens disagrees.

"The first sentence here," he said, "is not really about what the case is about."

In the case, Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon contributed to 15 candidates in the 2012 election and sued so he could donate to 12 more, though none was running in Alabama.

"The opinion is all about a case where the issue was electing somebody else's representatives," Stevens said. "The opinion has the merit of being faithful to the notion that money is speech and that out-of-district money has the same First Amendment protection as in-district money."

Stevens' proposed amendment is one of six he puts forth in his new book, "Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution," in which he has chapters on gun control, the death penalty, gerrymandering, and state sovereignty, each concluding with a proposed amendment.

But Stevens was hesitant with The Times on whether his campaign finance amendment would allow the government to prohibit newspapers from spending money to publish editorials endorsing candidates, or, in theory, possibly ban books urging the election of political candidates.

"Perhaps you could put a limit on the times of publication or something," he said. "You certainly couldn't totally prohibit writing a book."

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