One Step Back, One Step Forward

This past week has been an emotional roller coaster for me.  I was heavily invested in the Hobby Lobby case decided one week ago by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) and the decisions reached by the court was not the one I was hoping for  I spent a great deal of time both thinking about the case, the arguments made therein, and trying to do what I could to make my voice and my view known and, in the end, it felt like it was all for naught.  But, later in the same week, Lawrence Lessig’s MayDay PAC reached it’s five million dollar fundraising goal for the time from June 1 through July 4.  I wrote about the MayDayPAC before, and after the let down that was the Hobby Lobby case, this was a much-needed boost at the end of the week.

Hobby Lobby

If you’re unaware of the Hobby Lobby case, here’s a synopsis.  When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) was passed in March 2010, it included a mandate that insurance plans cover contraceptive measures including birth control pills, intrauterine devices (IUDs), “morning after” pills, etc.   Exceptions were made for churches and, later, for some other religiously based organizations.  However, there were some for-profit corporations whose owners felt as if their right to freely exercise their religion were infringed upon if they were to be forced by the government to pay for contraceptive coverage or be fined as a consequence of not doing so.  One of these corporations was Hobby Lobby.

Specifically, Hobby Lobby had a problem with four specific types of contraceptives:  two IUDs and two morning after pills.  They did not object to other forms of birth control that the mandate would cover.  The difference was the belief that these four specific forms of contraception were tantamount to abortions despite the weight of evidence against that belief.   As their case wound its way through the courts, it eventually found itself before SCOTUS and the justices, in a 5-4 decision, held that the religious rights of the owners of Hobby Lobby would be infringed upon and that the government would have to make the same accommodations for them (and other similar companies) as it already had for religiously-based organizations.

This decision creates a massive opening for organizations, for-profit and non-, to try and opt-out of other laws that they find problematic.  During the Civil Rights era, for example, there were businesses that opposed segregation citing their religious ideals.  Or, consider that this article from the Atlantic tells us that a group of faith leaders had already asked Obama to provide them a religious exemption in his forthcoming executive order relating to LGBT discrimination.  That letter was sent on July 1; the SCOTUS decision was made available on June 30.  It took one day before faith based objections were made to executive actions that have not even been taken yet (unless the President announced them today; I’ve not check my news feeds yet) using the Hobby Lobby case as foundation for their argument.

So, Hobby Lobby is bad.  It’s bad because its arguments were illogical.  It’s bad because it asks the courts to adjudicate based on what a person believes and to determine if those beliefs are sincerely held or not.  It’s bad because it allows the courts to make decisions about the viability of religious objections to laws.  It’s pretty much bad all around.  The only spin I’ve seen on things that might be considered “good” is that the backlash to this and future decisions like it might one day lead to a more secular America.  Frankly, I worry that this future, more secular America might not have room for the religious free exercises that I do support, but at this point I’m not sure there’s room for free exercise in a world where the exercise of one person’s rights restricts someone else’s, but that’s a philosophical Gordian knot to ponder another time.

MayDay PAC

On the flip side, the MayDay PAC–on which I also spent some of my time and treasure–reached its goal.  It’s my point of view that campaign financing is the biggest issue facing this nation.  Until we can change the way we fund elections, we’re never going be able to enact meaningful change on any number of other concerns (e.g. the environment, education, etc.).

Because our campaign system is so expensive, candidates–incumbents and challengers–must seek high-dollar donations in order to run them.  It’s a matter of simple economics that large corporate interests and the political action committees (PACs) that aggregate corporate dollars behind bite-sized messages are going to beat public donations in almost every way.  Prior to the Citizen’s United case, there were limitations on corporate campaign spending for just this reason.  But, in another stunningly unfortunate SCOTUS decision, those limits were deemed unconstitutional.  In the Hobby Lobby case, it was deemed that corporations have free-exercise rights with respect to their religions (which are assumed to be the religions of their owners); in Citizen’s United, it was deemed that a corporation’s free-speech rights must not be infringed by spending limits.  Does it seem like corporations are becoming better protected than the average citizen to anyone else?

But, I digress.  While there are a variety of efforts under way to try and mitigate the effects of corporate donations in our campaign, the MayDay PAC decided to fight fire with fire.  They hoped to raise a total of twelve million dollars–six million from the public and six million from large-dollar matching donations–in two months.  And, I didn’t expect it to work.

We got to the one million in May in about two weeks.  But, if the pace of donations stayed the same, it seemed pretty clear that five million from June 1 through July 4 was out of reach.  And, it was out of reach until we hit July.  Then, Lawrence Lessig started working overtime by email, by Twitter, and on the MayDay PAC website to put out the call for donations.  As that work commenced, so too did a flurry of donations begin to roll in.  I think one metric that was tweeted (or emailed) to supports indicated that there were 10-12 donations happening every minute during July 4.  And at roughly 9:15 pm on July 4, the five million dollar goal was reached!

As of this moment, we’ve gone beyond seven million.  That’s another two million over the July 4th weekend!

Now we have to see if that money can help us elect people dedicated to campaign finance reform in the 2014 mid term elections.  The goal is to elect a handful of candidates so dedicated during this election and, but doing so, to begin to understand how to most effectively use the money.  Then, to push hard going into the 2016 election cycle to try and elect even more until we have a critical mass of legislators for whom campaign finance reform is a priority.

My fingers are cautiously, but excitedly, crossed.