Transcript: Press briefing Q&A w/ Schumer & Whitehouse on McCutcheon v. FEC ruling

Partial transcript of the press briefing Q&A with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) on the Supreme Court ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC on April 2, 2014:

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York):
Just one other point. I’m chair of the Rules Committee and we will be holding hearings on this decision seeing if there’s anything we can do.

Yes, questions.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York):
My response to that is the dark money groups are dark because they want it dark, they’re going to keep it dark. And this will simply allow more money to cascade through the system. I don’t think it will reduce the amount of money that goes through the Super PACs and the 501c3 and 4s but it will increase the number of wealthy people – very wealthy people – who have a disproportionate effect on our political system.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York):
I said the specific effect of this decision is not that large because we’re already awash in money. But it shows where the Supreme Court is headed, which is to dismantle other even more significant limits so that any person could write out a check of any size and undisclosed and put it into unlimited numbers of races. And that direction, as I said, it would be like the 1890s. We’d go back to the days of the robber barons.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island):
It’s a little bit ironic that we’re spending so much time and energy and effort trying to support Ukraine as it emerges from a corrupt and oligarchic government while we have a Supreme Court that is busily at home kicking down the protections that protect American democracy from the same kind of oligarchic government.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York):
I’d like to say to Justice Kennedy – I was once in an elevator with him alone and I was so tempted but you’re not supposed to say anything about any cases…to a Supreme Court judge. But what I’d like to say and I think I can say it publicly – “Do you know how you’re ruining democracy in this country in a sort of guise of improving free speech?” I don’t think the Koch brothers lack for free speech.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York):
Correct. I’d say we’re headed in that direction.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York):
The damage is if you want to – let’s say you’re a person who doesn’t believe in undisclosed money. Let’s say you’re a person who doesn’t want to go to a 501c4 because you’re worried maybe there’ll be an IRS investigation sometime down the road. You can write one check to a joint committee of 232 House members and give them each the maximum. It makes it much easier – up until 10 years ago, we were trying to make it harder for very wealthy people to send huge amounts of money cascading through our system. With Citizens United and this case we’re making it easier. If you think that’s a good thing, as a few people do, you’ll like this decision. But most Americans – 98% of Americans – would say “Big money has too much of an interest already and this makes it easier for them.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island):
Chairman Leahy’s remark. When he got to the Senate, he thought that the seniority system was really unfair and archaic. But as he spent more time here, he’s decided that it’s a better and better idea. I think the same analysis applies to this decision. The richer you are, the more you think this decision could be a good idea. But if you’re a regular middle-class American who can’t afford to make major campaign contributions and you worry that Washington is already listening too much to rich people and ignoring your concerns, then this just kicks that door open a little bit more.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York):
Well, I think that any city – I mean, New York has a lot of wealthy people. But this does not have a geographic effect. It has an economic effect. The wealthier you are, the more weight you’ll have in this democracy. If you think wealthy people don’t have enough weight in this democracy, you should be for this decision.

And the frightening thing about the decision is what were the limitations on it. The limitations were the facts of the case – not the Supreme Court’s logic. The Supreme Court’s logic takes it in a direction that would get rid of all limits, and as I said, go back to the days of the robber barons.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York):
Nobody – you know, I actually checked with some people who would know. No one knows. No one knows. This is not a decision that advantages one party over the other. It advantages the very wealthy over everybody else.

The very wealthy should be allowed to participate in the system, but most people would agree – if you did a balancing test – already their weight is disproportionate and this makes it more so.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York):
Oh, I think individual limits will be under threat from the Supreme Court. Those actually want to challenge in this case so that a person could write out a check for $10 million directly to a candidate…

You asked about the Koch brothers. They still have to do it right now through an independent expenditure, and that is not, as somebody who has run the DSCC – if I could be a candidate to get $5 million undisclosed to my campaign treasury to spend as I want, that is far more effective to that candidate than someone putting $5 million into a 501c4.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York):
Well, you know, again, most of these decisions are First Amendment decisions, so it’s very hard. But we will explore what kind of legislative responses are possible within the bounds of the Supreme Court decision. But as I said, it makes the Udall constitutional amendment more attractive.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York):
Well, they’ve said all along that we could implement more disclosure. We’ve tried. Our Republican colleagues – Mitch McConnell who used to get up and say disclosure is the answer have in an act of supreme self-interest been against disclosures because they know they’re benefitting from this far more than we are, not from this decision but the overall impact of money.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York):
Absolutely, I’m upset as an American. And I’ll tell you, as somebody who believes that government could be a force for good, this decision just weakens everybody’s faith in government and that is the enemy of democracy.

If people lose faith in democracy, if people lose faith that they have some ability to control the events that are occurring in Washington – the actions of elected officials – if the average person loses that faith, this is a much different country and I fear the consequences. I do. I genuinely fear what’s happening here.

Go talk to average people. They’re just so disillusioned in the system.

And one of the main reasons – hey, look – the Tea Party has gridlocked our government. How does the Tea Party have such power? Some of it is they dominate some of the Republican primaries. But much of it is they have 20 people and they can call them up and push a button and say, “Put this money in.” We saw it when the government was shut down. Republican Senators were told, “They’ll be ads in your district if you oppose us.” A small number of people who really want to paralyze the government are just being given such huge disproportionate weight. But the average citizen who doesn’t follow in detail says government just doesn’t work. That’s terrible for our democracy.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island):
If you’re a court watcher, note the lack of humility and the lack of judicial conservatism to these decisions. These are judges who are making sweeping determinations without trying to bring the court together, without trying to unify their colleagues – the way Judge Warren, for instance, famously did in Brown v. Board of Education. They’re trespassing into an area in which they know nothing and in which they have been proven affirmatively wrong. It’s not debatable that Citizens United was wrongly decided in terms of saying that this spending is going to be independent of candidates and it’s going to be transparent. You’ll know who it is. Those decisions were factually wrong. They made up findings of fact that appellate judges are not supposed to do. They found facts that have been indisputably proven wrong, and they won’t go back and reconsider their plain error. They just keep charging forward. That is not a sign of a court that is either – that is anything but activist. And it is a sign of a court that has an agenda, and it is really worrisome when that agenda takes something that has been defended for hundreds of years with blood and sweat and tears by Americans and begins to turn us into a country where the money rules and everybody else can go hay.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York):
Does anybody think that the Koch brothers’ First Amendment rights are being violated? Or any other very wealthy person? The only people who seem to think that are people who have a direct self-interest in seeing that small number of people gain more power. It’s – the argument just doesn’t make any sense. And as Sheldon said, it’s an argument from people who have not seen how politics really works and how the effects of money jaundices this system away from the interests of average people too often.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island):
I’ll give you one right now. Climate change. How many Senators have a record on climate change before Citizens United came along? John McCain ran for president to do something about climate change. Susan Collins co-authored a climate fee bill…Several others have written articles in favor of carbon fees or spoken publicly in favor of carbon fees. Then comes Citizens United. Name one who will come to the floor right now and admit climate change is a real problem, admit that carbon pollution is worth doing anything about. That’s a real problem. That’s hitting our farms. That’s hitting our families. That’s hitting our forests. That’s hitting our shorelines. That’s hitting our fisherman. And the fact that we have a party that is in complete denial on that subject and that that denial has become complete exactly in the wake of Citizens United and that the big money behind that party right now is the polluter money of the Koch brothers. If you can’t put those dots together, then you really can’t follow a story very well. And that is really what’s going on.

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