It appears that Senate leaders have reached a bipartisan agreement on passage of a measure to strengthen background checks on gun purchases, thus avoiding a threatened filibuster by 14 senators opposed to the legislation. Although prospects for the measure are much less hopeful in the House, the agreement is a significant step forward in efforts to end gun violence in America. Yet even with such legislative progress, it is deeply troubling to think that a simple up or down vote on legislation that polling shows has the support of an overwhelming number of Americans could ever have been blocked by a small group of senators.
It is yet another sign of our crumbling democracy, which continues to erode from an array of attacks on the fundamental democratic principle that all citizens should have a voice and a vote. Just take a look at the past year. The 2012 federal election cycle set a new high in spending levels at $7 billion, due in no small part to the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v the FEC, opening the floodgates for unlimited campaign spending by corporations. According to data compiled by Public Citizen, in the 2012 elections, 100 people and their spouses contributed 41 percent of Super PAC funding. The voices of those without large sums of money to spend on campaign contributions are being pushed further and further to the margins.
The impact of huge campaign contributions from corporations and SuperPacs impacts not just elections but the public policy decisionmaking process itself. This is clearly evident not only in the public debate around gun violence prevention, but in the policy debates around environmental laws, immigration and criminal justice, to name a few. In fact, through groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), corporate contributors to campaigns are getting an inside track on drafting state and federal legislation. This is a far cry from what I was taught in high school civics class.
Couple the spiraling influence of money in elections with the attacks on voter rights in the form of tighter voter registration restrictions, strict identification requirements, rollbacks on early voting, voter intimidation, along with recent Supreme Court challenges to the Voting Rights Act, and a “perfect storm” emerges with our core democratic process in its sights.
Over the last several months there has been much attention paid to our 2nd amendment “right to bear arms.” Would that such attention could be paid to our fundamental democratic values that the Constitution as a whole was meant to uphold.
Note: There is an effort being organized by a variety of public interest groups to pass a constitutional amendment reversing the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. For more information, go to: Move to Amend and Democracy is for People.
The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.