The Reid Report   |  April 02, 2014

More money more problems? Not for the GOP

NBC’s Pete Williams and Demos president Heather McGhee discuss the major decision handed down by the Supreme Court eliminating a contribution limit for candidates in federal elections.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> but first, let's get some news from the supreme court . hey, rich people , want to buy an election? how about a few of them? come on in, the water's fine. that's the gust of today's supreme court -- in response to a challenge brought by the republican party , an alabama businessman, shaun mccutchen, republican national committee chair praised today's ruling as, quote, an important first step toward when free speech is allowed to flourish, our democracy is stronger. house speaker john boehner had a similar reaction.

>> what i think this means is freedom of speech is being upheld. you all have the freedom to write what you want to write. donors have the freedom to give what they want to give. i'm all for freedom. congratulations.

>> the ncaa responded with a statement that reads in part, this ruling givings millionaires and billionaires a tighter grip on our elections. this fight is not over. and joining me now to explain the details of today's ruling, nbc's new justice correspondent pete williams . pete, explain what in really means today.

>> reporter: what it means is that you're right, you said it earlier, a specific individual can now give as much money as that individual wants to all candidates for federal office put together. the limit that was there of about 49 million is gone. here was the court's reasoning. they said that since the 1970s , the supreme court has considered spending with free speech . so they said it's unconstitutional to limit how much speech a person can engage in. the justification for this law was it would limit corruption. i give you law, i give you a favor in return. under the old limit, a person could give the maximum to say, 10 candidates for congress but not 11 or 12. and the supreme court said there was no justification for that. the supreme court can no more limit how much a single person can spend to contribute to federal candidates than it could tell a newspaper how many candidates it can endorse in the paper. the liberals say that this misunderstands how it really works out there, that the court is going to make it easier for the big money to drown out smaller americans, ordinary americans, further distorting the political process.

>> my understanding is that one justice, clarence thomas , our old friend clarence thomas was the only one to strike down the individual limit of $29,000, right?

>> reporter: this gets back to a mid 1970 decision when the supreme court said you can't limit how much candidates can spend, but you can limit how much a person can contribute because that could lead to corruption, he thinks that decision was wrong, he would overrule it, he would have the supreme court stay out of the business of regulating money and politics.

>>> for now, on what today's supreme court decision means for the future role of money and politics, i am very pleased to be joined by mr. and mrs. contributor heather mcgee. okay, heather, we now have essentially blown the cap on what people can give in these elections, what does that mean pragmatically for our elections process?

>> it means that in some ways the lights are going out a little bit dimmer on the grand experiment that is the grand democracy, so the first amendment is -- the entire constitution is actually in service of something pretty bold and hard to maintain which is a representative form of government. and point out how much the entire dominance of our politics of our wealthy people, millionaires and billionaires means our entire system is skews toward their -- one out of every three minutes they're caught talking to people that can write big checks. that means that the minimum wage , which the president is going to be talking about today don't get a fair hearing because there's research that shows that wealthy people are not in support of a high minimum wage that would allow people to escape poverty.

>> you have shown sort of the distorting effect of a small number of people and how much they're able to give. so that first chart here, it's showing what we call mccutchen money. and the black line there is projected donors with the cap and the blue is without the cap. so if you look you can see the big gulf between what people were able to give and what they weren't. we're talking about a very small number of people, if you look there, now the chart we're showing now is really looking at the giving to barack obama versus to mitt romney . and basically what the charts are saying is that a very small number of people are giving a substantial percentage and share of overall money that's flowing through these campaigns.

>> we have a large donor dominated system. less than 1% have given in an amount over 2$200. when you look at what's going to happen post mccutchen, we're going to see more and more big dollar donations. but it's important for us to not get into despair, there are things that can happen. we can still have a small system, a small donor matching financing, governor cuomo here in new york, actually had a chance to make history and give us a system of public financing and he punted the ball on that and that's really unfortunate.

>> whenever you have this issue of public financing come up, it came up with the obama campaign in 08, you can't compete with someone who can afford to bundle you billions of is that a small donor match system, like they have in connecticut, like they have in new york actually can be competitive. it's a voluntary system. it's particularly effective at the state and local level. but we could do something like this in congress. there's a new bill in congress called the government by the people act. the provisions would basically mean, if i gave $50, which is not a lot. it would be matched 6 to 1. which would mean that my donation would -- there's a lot that actually can be done. so i want to leave people with a little bit of hope, even despite this decision today.

>> i was feeling this morning like we had gone back to the mckinley era. you have given me hope. heather mcgee. ceo and president of dmos.

>> congratulations on your show.