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April 03, 2014

Money Out, Voters In: Unity at the Supreme Court and Nationwide against McCutcheon’s Assault on Democracy

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Protesting the McCutcheon decision outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday

Just hours after the Supreme Court declared aggregate campaign contribution limits unconstitutional, opening the floodgates to even more corrupting corporate money in politics, Sierra Club members joined our allies from the Democracy Initiative and other organizations at rallies across the country to express outrage and unity.

At a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington D.C., George Kohl, Senior Director of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) eloquently expressed what everyone was thinking.

“It sucks, and our members are pissed off about it!”

This ruling will only directly affect about 1,200 people who had hit the previous limit of giving a total $120,000 directly to candidates and parties - an amount out-of-reach for almost every other American. Now, they’ll be legally allowed to dump upwards of $3.6 million every election. But though just a handful are directly impacted by the change, Nick Nyhart, President and CEO of Public Campaign, made it clear the impact on the rest of the country would be hard to ignore.

“This is a political gift for millionaires and billionaires,” Nyhart said, declaring that the ruling amounted to “Government of, by, and for the campaign contributors.”

These 1,200 people will be sure to take advantage of the new ruling. Courtney Hight, Director of the Sierra Club’s Democracy Program, pointed out that after the Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case allowed unlimited outside spending, the Koch Brothers alone spent more in 2012 than the entire McCain campaign did in 2008.  

That’s of particular concern to those of us fighting for healthy communities and a healthy planet, as these decisions allow oil barons like the Kochs to pour even more money into elections.

“The same people who are doing the polluting are fighting to overturn our democracy,” Hight said. IMG_20140402_121859655

An outspoken champion for protecting the public interest, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) joined the rally in Washington and told of the dangers of the Supreme Court’s flawed decision.

“What the Supreme Court has said today is that big money should be the dominant factor in the U.S. political process,” the Senator shouted. “This is not what people fought and died for.”

But amid all the anger and frustration with the conservative justices of the Roberts Court, faith was not lost. The parade of speakers had a message of hope.

Jotaka Eaddy, NAACP's Senior Advisor to the President and CEO and Senior Director for Voting Rights (right), was one of many who exclaimed, “Organized people always beat organized money.”

Miles Rapoport, President of Common Cause, proposed several needed changes to the system, including increasing the power of small dollar donations, fighting for stronger contribution disclosure laws, and halting assaults on voter rights across the country.

Representative Keith Ellison (MN-05) reminded those gathered that terrible decisions that came out of the Supreme Court in the past, such as Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson, were resolved through legislative action. In particular, Ellison referred to the Government By the People Act, a bill to lift up small-dollar donors that he cosponsored and the Sierra Club supports.

Drew Courtney, Director of Communications at People for the American Way, called the day “a step forward, because we are together.” He went on to say that “we have a powerful coalition right here, but there are a hundred rallies going on today across the country.”

20140402_172817Sierra Club Activists in Massachusetts Stand With Allies Against Corruption

In fact, about 130 rallies across the country gave concerned citizens—including Sierra Club members—a chance to speak out about the disastrous McCutcheon decision.

In Massachusetts, Sierra Club activists stood with our friends from Common Cause and other advocacy groups against corruption. In San Francisco, Sierra Club Deputy Executive Director Bruce Hamilton spoke out about why environmentalists care about getting big corporate money out of politics.

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Sierra Club Deputy Executive Director Bruce Hamilton Speaks at a Rally Opposing the Decision in San Francisco

"Environmentalists are standing shoulder to shoulder with civil rights champions, organized workers, good government advocates, and concerned citizens who are sick and tired of our democracy being bought and sold to the highest bidder,” Hamilton said.

Going forward, we are united and motivated, nationwide.  

As George Kohl from CWA said, “We are more than them, and we will win.”

-David Shadburn, Sierra Club Intern

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