Challenging the Wealth Primary
There are moments in our nation's history when a tradition that we once thought constitutional becomes constitutional no more. The history of the right to vote in this country includes, in fact, a series of such moments.....
Today, we must face up to the newest voting-rights barrier: the "wealth primary." The wealth primary is that exclusionary process, leading up to every party primary and every general election, in which those with money or access to money, by means of their campaign contributions, choose the candidates who almost invariably go on to govern. Those who do not raise enough money -- that is, who lose the wealth primary -- almost always do not win office.
The rest of us, the vast majority of American people, are shut out of the wealth primary. We are excluded from a critical part of our election process. Our right to vote, including our right to equal and meaningful participation, is debased and undermined. Like the poll tax, our campaign finance system has been thought to be constitutional. It is constitutional no more.
'Part of the Machinery'
In 1953, the Supreme Court decided the last of what have become known as the "white primary" cases. But Terry v. Adams, 345 U.S. 461 (1953) actually did not involve a racially exclusionary primary.... Terry involved the pre-primary candidate nominating process of an all-white political organization in Texas, the home of the earlier cases.
The Jaybird Democratic Association, a large private political club open only to white Texas voters, had for year nominated candidates to run in the Democratic Party primary. For years, those who won the "Jaybird primary" would invariably go on to win the Democratic primary and the general election.
In a decision of enormous import, the Supreme Court ruled in Terry that the Jaybird Democratic Association's exclusionary process had become "part of the machinery for choosing officials" and, therefore, required constitutional scrutiny. The Court then struck down the Jaybird primary, finding that it unconstitutionally excluded African-American voters on the basis of their race from "an integral part" of "the elective process that determines who shall rule and govern."
Like that white primary, the wealth primary today is "part of the machinery" for getting elected to federal office. It is, like its predecessor, both exclusionary and decisive. Candidates and voters who lack wealth and access to wealth are effectively excluded from the process. And the candidate who, by raising the most money, wins the wealth primary almost invariably wins the election.....
* According to Roll Call, at least 28 out of 100 United States Senators are millionaires, compared to less than one-half of one percent of the American public. This means that millionaires are over-represented in the Senate by a factor of more than 5,000 percent.
* Not a single U.S. Senator was in the class of people living below the U.S. Government-established poverty line before winning election, a class which consists of at least 12 percent of American society. If the poor were over-represented in the Senate to the same extent as millionaires, the entire body would be made up of poor people.
(c) 1995-2001, National Voting Rights Institute
These excerpts, published under fair use provisions, only capture the highlights of the National Voting Rights Institute's innovating, yet obvious approach to challenging the triumph of plutocracy over democracy on constitutional grounds. This constitutional challenge represents a far more powerful approach than simply passing campaign finance laws.
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