In the article, A Quest to End Spending Rules for Campaigns, the New York Times wrote about a “lonely Quixote tilting at the very idea of regulating political donations as an affront to free speech” named James Bopp Jr. Bopp is the man who convinced Citizens United to use Hillary the Movie as a deliberate test of the limits of campaign finance law—with an eye toward seeing the case end up in the Supreme Court.
“We had a 10-year plan to take all this down,” he said in an interview. “And if we do it right, I think we can pretty well dismantle the entire regulatory regime that is called campaign finance law.”
“We have been awfully successful,” he added, “and we are not done yet.”
The next item on Bopp’s agenda is to challenge disclosure requirements, so that American citizens will be bombarded by campaign ads financed by interests that can’t be identified.
“Groups have to be relieved of reporting their donors if lifting the prohibition on their political speech is going to have any meaning,” he said. Requiring groups that buy political commercials to report their donors is almost as punitive, he said, “as an outright criminal go-to-jail-time prohibition.”
The success of Bopp’s one-man quest has been spectacular—nothing less than the overturn of a century of Supreme Court precedent by an activist, corporatist, corrupt group of conservative judges currently serving on the High Court. The decision should come as no surprise, considering that a similarly constituted court overturned the very Constitution itself by choosing the American president in 2000.
Progressives should be asking themselves “Where’s our Mr. Bopp?” Or better still, “How can I be a Mr. Bopp?”
If one person can turn the country upside down on the conservative side—using only time and careful planning as his primary tools—then progressives should be able to do the same thing on the people’s behalf.
The genius of Mr. Bopp’s coup is that it strikes at the very heart of our democracy, essentially making the citizen’s voice irrelevant. There’s little doubt that congress will counter the court’s ruling with new campaign finance legislation. Their jobs are at stake, and we have a president who is visibly outraged by the decision. But the fact that a single individual could bring our country to the brink in this way should be instructive.
Progressives need to do more than react to bad presidents and bad policy. We need to do more than stand up for principle. We need to cultivate in ourselves a little of Mr. Bopp’s talent for long-range planning, patience, persistence, and above all his understanding for what makes this country tick. If we want to create a truly progressive future, we need to get out ahead of the curve in the same way our conservative counterparts always manage to do—but on behalf of the American people, rather than the money and authoritarians so well served by James Bopp Jr.