Guest Column: Government for sale to highest bidder

Dan Thomasson

WASHINGTON—Look for this advertisement on TV, your local newspaper and online in the not too distant future:

“For sale at auction: 535 Seats in the U.S. Congress, 100 in Upper House and 435 in Lower Chamber. Seats to be occupied by person of buyer’s choice after bipartisan elective process with no restrictions on qualifications of candidates other than those set out by the major bidders.”

“Reserve: $1 million per seat.”

“Bidder must certify personal net worth of $200 million or more. Average citizens need not apply.”

“Seat carries desk on main floor of domed building now referred to frequently as the ‘Cave of the Winds’ and individual offices in nearby structures. Also included with each seat is pro-rated share of sprawling government complex with extensive grounds and adjacent structures, eating facilities, meeting rooms, fleet of vehicles, separate library, priceless art and statues, parking facilities and fountains. Extremely valuable hideaways in main building where nefarious schemes are hatched and assignations conducted under influence of alcoholic spirits will be auctioned apart from general bidding.”

“Certifying agency: the U.S. Supreme Court, which is located immediately across the street from auctioned grounds. Bidders should contact chief sales agent John G. Roberts Jr., or one of four assistants —  Samuel A. Alito Jr., Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.”

“Authority for sale: The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution free-speech provision as interpreted by sales agent and cohorts. All other heretofore restrictions on buying and selling of seats and or candidates are hereby abrogated. Other adjustments to the elective process will be dealt with as need occurs.”

“Dates of sale will be determined but extending over several months, with final purchase culminating in November every two years. All sales are final even if bidder’s candidate fails to win. No refunds granted.”

“A separate announcement will follow for auction of residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the city of Washington, District of Columbia.”

“Notice: Sales agent expects to change the motto under which Republic was founded to ‘The Best Democracy Money Can Buy’ with apologies to Will Rogers whose statue occupies a prominent spot in the Capitol building.”

Do you think I’m kidding here? That my poor attempt at satire has no basis in reality? Well, anyone who doesn’t believe that the Supreme Court has not just shouted fire in a crowded theater when it comes to the election process has been spending too much time in Colorado buying more than a little of what we used to be put in jail for smoking.

The bolts that secure the dome to the nation’s symbol of democracy have been more than just loosened by the high court’s narrow decision in the name of free speech to take off the limits on aggregate contributions from individuals to federal candidates and political committees.

It of course follows the Citizens united decision that struck down limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions without lifting the restraints on direct contributions to candidates. One can anticipate the death of limits on direct contributions sometime soon.

While the vote last week broke along the usual philosophical lines of this court with conservatives taking the edge, both political parties began immediately rounding up their usual whales to finance the coming midterms.

I wonder if the founders of this great nation ever considered that someone might amass the kind of wealth these guys and their families have accumulated and that the corrupting influence such wealth portends ultimately might undercut what they had in mind when they wrote the Constitution and added a bedrock amendment of freedoms?

If they meant the First Amendment to be a protection of political speech from government interference as Chief Justice Roberts concluded, is not giving a handful of super wealthy individuals control of the system without restraint doing just about the same?

How can someone who scrapes up one hundred bucks to give to a candidate or a political cause expect to be heard?

The truth is he should save his money. Is not his free speech being impinged upon?

Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at [email protected].