Iowa Senator Tom Harkin says he’s very discouraged by Tuesday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that rejected putting new limits on how much money individuals can donate to political campaigns. “I just feel so badly about the way we’re drifting in this country to more and more influence by the wealthy and those who have money in politics,” Harkin says. “I think it was Justice Breyer who said that this is just another step in disengaging public interest from government, from politics.”
Harkin, a Democrat, says the ruling is a big disappointment and will have a chilling effect on anyone considering a role in the political process. Harkin says, “More and more people will say, ‘What the heck? Why should I get involved? My $10 or my 50 bucks or my 100 bucks isn’t going to make any difference when somebody can pour in hundreds of millions of dollars without any control.'”
First elected to office in 1974, Harkin is not seeking re-election this year, so for the first time in four decades, he’s not having to worry about fundraising. He finds the high court’s decision a disaster for the future of democracy. “I think it’s going to have a very depressing effect on, as Justice Breyer said, on public interest in politics and that’s a shame,” Harkin says. “You mentioned it’s the first time in 40 years I haven’t had to raise money, all I can say is thank goodness. It’s gotten out of hand, it’s just simply gotten out of hand.”
Harkin says a constitutional amendment may be needed to demonstrate that money does not equal speech. While some limits on campaign donations remain in place, opponents of the ruling say it will enable one person to donate as much as three-point-six million dollars to political candidates, committees and parties during a two-year election cycle.