A writer calls for a constitutional amendment to end the influence of money in American politics.
In this book, Karath (Overthrowing the Invisible Empire, 2017) looks not to the 2010 Citizens United case as the root of the problems with money in 21st-century politics, but to the Supreme Court’s 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo as the key factor in allowing unfettered involvement in elections by corporations and wealthy individuals. The author recounts a deeply researched history of recent debates over free speech and campaign finance reform, and draws clear connections between political donations and beneficial treatment. The volume discusses a number of scandals and problems that can be linked to the influence of political donations, including Jack Abramoff’s lobbying, the vast power of David and Charles Koch, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and Meg Whitman’s candidacy for governor of California. After presenting a wealth of evidence, Karath then goes on to argue that political spending must be limited as well as contributions, and presents a draft of a constitutional amendment that might ameliorate the situation. He also guides readers through the process of amending the Constitution. The back matter includes a collection of statements from notable figures on the role of money in politics as well as a detailed list of source notes that include well-regarded experts in the field.
Karath is a thoughtful writer, and has done the research necessary to support his wide-ranging contentions. The arguments are generally persuasive, although readers will be left with the sense that advocates of campaign finance reform are generally outmatched by their opponents’ deep pockets. And while the author maintains his optimism toward the book’s goal of removing the influence of money, more cynical readers may find the proposed remedies unlikely to succeed. This is a work of advocacy, clear in the position taken in its pages. While major conservative donors like the Koch brothers (David Koch died recently) and “hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer” receive pointed attention, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and leaders are equally indicted as participants in and beneficiaries of the profit-driven aspects of politics. At times, the prose becomes too caught up in its own eloquence, delivering verbal thrusts or an excessive series of rhetorical questions (“Would the Kochs and other corporate titans, who spend billions of dollars manipulating government and politicians for profit, suddenly abide by the honor system? Would they voluntarily stay out of the public arena, leaving billions of dollars in potential profits on the table?”). But the bulk of Karath’s writing is strong, biting, and evocative, as in this passage about Filip Palda, a French Canadian economist, libertarian author, and disciple of Austrian economist Friedrich A. Hayek: “Leave it to a French-Canadian writer relying on arcane studies by an Austrian economist to explain American democracy to Americans.” This is not a book that will leave the audience feeling good about the state of politics in the United States. But readers will undoubtedly finish the work better informed about the nature of the problem, and quite possibly become motivated to join the author in pushing for fundamental changes to the political system.
A well-researched, solidly argued case for limiting political spending and donations, slightly hampered by its over-ambitious constitutional goal.