Recently, the United States Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, effectively overruled limits on aggregate campaign contributions. Before the ruling, individuals were restricted to giving no more than $123,000 to candidates and party committees per election cycle.
The decision by the court allows even more money in a political system awash in dollars and influence peddling.
For some perspective, the 2012 median household income in the United States was $51,371; and, in New Jersey it was $69,667. These figures are from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey.
Not only does this ruling demonstrate how out of sync Washington is with the rest of the country, it also points to the degree to which Washington is not in tune with regular Americans.
Clearly, an individual making about $50,000 in the United States, or even $70,000 in New Jersey, is in no position to contribute $123,000 or more during the course of an election cycle. Citizens in this income area are lucky if they can afford to make a $5 or $10 contribution to a favored candidate for office
This ruling rewards the interest groups and individuals who already dominate Washington, advocating agendas that push apart the American electorate and tempting candidates and elected officials.
United State Sen. John McCain, Republican from Arizona, has already predicted, “There will be major scandals in campaign finance contributions that will cause reform.
“There will be scandal,” McCain repeated. “There’s too much money washing around.”
Money scandals in national politics and in New Jersey politics serve as warning signs of too much money concentrated in too few hands. The film “American Hustle” is a fictional account of the Abscam scandal of the 1970s. More than 30 political figures were included in the bribery investigation. Eventually six members of the U.S. House of Representatives, a U.S. senator, a New Jersey state senator and the mayor of Camden were convicted of crimes.
In 2007, the then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie warned mayors and other local officials at the New Jersey League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City: “If over the next couple of days someone approaches you with an envelope of cash looking to seek a favor from you, unless it is your mommy, turn and run for the ocean. It’s probably us.”
Despite the warning, two years later the U.S. Attorney’s Office conducted a sting involving bribes that ensnared local elected officials, real estate developers, a former punk rocker, an illegal body parts broker, five Orthodox rabbis and a retired exotic dancer.
Ted Sherman and Josh Margolin co-authored “The Jersey Sting,” which chronicled the true story of a three-year corruption investigation that ended up so comical and sensational that it found its way into late-night talk show monologues.
But it is not really funny because, as McCain said, “there will be scandal.”
Daniel J. Douglas is the director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.