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PC(USA) stated clerk issues statement on Supreme Court’s election finance decision

Parsons: Unlimited spending by corporations ‘challenges democratic ethos’

February 3, 2010

LOUISVILLE

The Rev. Gradye Parsons, General Assembly stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), issued a statement today decrying the Jan. 21 U.S. Supreme Court decision to lift virtually all restrictions on corporate contributions to election campaigns.

“I am concerned about the pressures this decision puts on individual candidates and office holders and on the integrity of the election system as a whole,” Parsons said, noting that the decision undoes decades of federal campaign finance legislation and “historic Presbyterian wisdom about the dangers of corruption by special interests.”

Parsons’ statement outlined recent General Assembly statements on campaign finance and electoral form, concluding that “this decision is likely to reshape the political process in profound ways, and to reduce the voice of citizens, churches and other groups without unlimited money ...”

The full text of Parsons’ statement, dated Feb. 3:

Statement by Stated Clerk on Unlimited Corporate Financing of Elections

The January 21, 2010, decision of the Supreme Court to reject 35 years of legislation to limit campaign spending by corporations challenges the democratic ethos of the United States and threatens to magnify the already-powerful role of special interests in US politics. In light of historic Presbyterian wisdom about the dangers of corruption by special interests, I am concerned about the pressures this decision puts on individual candidates and office holders and on the integrity of the election system as a whole.

Without addressing the legal status of corporations, now determined to be legal persons with “free speech,” able to use unlimited corporate (or union) funds for political purposes, this decision shows an innocence about human power and sin that Reformed Christians must question. Because this decision is likely to reshape the political process in profound ways, and to reduce the voice of citizens, churches and other groups without unlimited money, it is important to re-state the position of many General Assemblies.

In 2000, recognizing the already sky-rocketing costs of campaigns in the United States, the General Assembly Resolution on Campaign Finance Reform “Direct(ed) the Office of the General Assembly and the Washington Office to communicate the General Assembly’s strong support for ... campaign finance reforms, in order to increase public participation in elections and fairness in allocating the benefits and burdens of society” (Minutes, 2000, Part 1, pp. 424).

In 2008, in the resolution Lift Every Voice: Democracy, Voting Rights, and Electoral Reform, the Assembly recommended a set of measures for greater accountability and responsibility, including: “legislation and appropriate support for judicial cases that distinguish between campaign contributions and “free speech,” allowing meaningful regulation of special interest groups and individuals who are ... expected to spend approximately $400 million of the $1.5 billion 2008 election cycle.” 

Well before Presbyterian minister John Witherspoon signed the Declaration of Independence, Presbyterians stood for the reform of both church and society in the direction of greater equal rights and democratic-representative processes. We have insisted on laws that protect individual rights and insure equitable communal decision-making.  Elections for us are, in a sense, civic sacraments, as they carry a great moral responsibility to point to the common good. Unelected powers are unaccountable powers, unless governed by fair laws.

The Reformed theologian Reinhold Niebuhr expressed our mixture of realism and hope for making our political processes as participatory, just, and accountable as possible in his famous aphorism: “man’s (human) capacity for justice makes democracy possible but man’s (human) capacity for injustice makes democracy necessary.” The Supreme Court’s decision promises to expand the capacity for the injustice of unlimited political influence, and to compromise the capacity of citizens and legislatures to fulfill the promise of self-government.

Along with the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, I call upon Presbyterians to express to their own legislators concern over this egregious decision and ask our Washington Office to share this statement with legislators, the members of the Supreme Court, and the President of the United States.

The Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

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