weather icon Clear

The horrible reform ahead

During the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, corruption in government and industry was so common and blatant that it generated widespread revulsion in the public. It led to the Progressive Era, when remedies were adopted that turned out to be less than successful, such as initiative, referendum, and recall. Today the initiative petition process in California is a national joke and its use here in Nevada has effectively been limited to special interests.

The Watergate scandal in the 1970s led to campaign finance “reforms” that gave us the fine system we have today, in which campaign contributions and bribes are difficult to distinguish from each other.

The U.S. Supreme Court is now putting the nation in danger of another form of reform that could do some real damage to our system of government.

In 1976, the court ruled in Buckley vs. Valeo that money is speech.

In 2010 the court in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission upheld a concept it originated in 1819 that corporations are persons and thus entitled to first amendment protection in political expression, giving corporations the right to spend all they want in campaigns, overwhelming the speech of all individuals.

Then this month, the court in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission invalidated aggregate limits on campaign contributions, allowing the rich to pour unlimited sums into campaigns.

In this last decision, the court could not assemble a majority of five behind the rationale for its action. Just four members agreed on the opinion, with a fifth (Clarence Thomas) concurring in the result but not the reasoning. The four-person opinion was written by Chief Justice John Roberts and it said some remarkable things.

“This Court has identified only one legitimate governmental interest for restricting campaign finances: preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption,” Roberts wrote. “We have consistently rejected attempts to suppress campaign speech based on other legislative objectives. No matter how desirable it may seem, it is not an acceptable governmental objective to ‘level the playing field,’ or to ‘level electoral opportunities,’ or to ‘equalize the financial resources of candidates…’ The First Amendment prohibits such legislative attempts to ‘fine-tune’ the electoral process, no matter how well-intentioned.”

If this becomes precedent, it will be impossible for the public through its Congress to do anything to make elections fair.

Roberts: “Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to such quid pro quo corruption. Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner ‘influence over or access to’ elected officials or political parties. And because the Government’s interest in preventing the appearance of corruption is equally confined to the appearance of quid pro quo corruption, the Government may not seek to limit the appearance of mere influence or access.”

Over the course of its rulings since 1976, the court has systematically reduced the ability of the nation to protect itself from the power of unlimited money in politics. It is creating a situation in which the only way remaining to prevent elections from becoming commerce is to carve out exceptions in the First Amendment. That’s the last thing MOST people want. But it’s becoming the only remedy or reform the court will allow.

Dennis Myers is an award winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
DAN SCHINHOFEN: Bill of Rights?

Back in January when the “novel coronavirus” was finally making the news, after the debacle of impeachment was over, I was very interested as I watched the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) shut down a city with 35 million residents. My first reaction was, “This could never happen in America as we have a Bill of Rights.” Boy was I wrong.

DAN SCHINHOFEN: Lessons learned

This past year has seen a lot of changes and most not for the better. As I sit here thinking it over, here are some of the things I have learned.

TIM BURKE: Possible second mandated shutdown would be disastrous

The recent rapid increase in COVID-19 positives is threatening to close businesses and halt family holiday gatherings temporarily. The post-election decrease in COVID-19 positives that some theorized would take place due to the election did not materialize. The exact opposite has happened.

STEVE SEBELIUS: 2020 election mandate? Compromise

Democrats long hoped for a supermajority in the Nevada Legislature; instead, the mixed election results will force both sides to work together to find consensus to fix vexing problems.

DAN SCHINHOFEN: More division coming up

President “projected” Biden stated that he will unite our country. Well, that’s good because his party spent the last four years dividing us. From the end of the election in 2016, the Democrats have refused to accept the results, but rather spent the last four years calling Trump illegitimate, a fraud, and of course tried to impeach him many times. The one time they actually went through with it, they knew it would fail in the Senate, but to meddle in the next election, they did it anyway, During Obama’s administration, there were many times some Republicans wanted to impeach Obama, but with the Senate being held by Harry Reid, they knew it would only be a show and cause division, so they did not.

As Mental Health Comes out of the Shadows, So Should Insurance Coverage to Increase Access to Care

Anyone who has ever tried to navigate the crazy task of selecting an individual health insurance policy knows the fundamental problem is figuring out exactly what you’re buying. Then, traversing the dizzying maze of HMOs, doctors, hospitals, co-pays, deductibles, allowable procedures, and coverage eligibility only increases the frustration.


The chaos surrounding the presidential election bears a semblance to the “hurry-up” offense in the NFL to avoid changing the outcome of a play.