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Milbank: Government by and for the top bidders

There’s a certain irony in the U.S. Supreme Court remaining open while much of the federal government is shut, for the high court created much of the dysfunction that cripples Washington today.

The court has failed to undo the partisan redistricting that has left the House of Representatives hopelessly polarized. It has furthered Americans’ cynicism toward politics with nakedly political rulings such as Bush v. Gore. Above all, it has created a campaign-finance system that is directly responsible for the rise of uncompromising leaders on both sides of the Capitol.

Political money was again before the Supreme Court on Tuesday morning, and, judging from their questions in the case of McCutcheon v. FEC, the conservative justices are poised to make things even worse. Now they are prepared to expand on their 2010 decision, which caused an explosion of independent spending, by allowing the wealthy to give about $3.5 million apiece to candidates and parties in each election cycle. Their rationale: They've already allowed the system to become so flooded with money that more won’t hurt.

“It’s not that we’re stopping people from spending big money on politics,” Justice Antonin Scalia argued. “When you add all that up, I don’t think $3.5 million is a heck of a lot of money.”

Actually, Nino, $3.5 million is a lot of money. As Solicitor General Donald Verrilli tried to point out, that means a party can get everything it needs to run all congressional races around the country from fewer than 500 people. “There is a very real risk both that the government will be run of, by and for those 500 people and that the public will perceive that the government is being run of, by and for those 500 people,” Verrilli said.

Scalia wasn't impressed. He said it is “fanciful to think that the sense of gratitude” lawmakers feel toward their big donors “is any greater than the sense of gratitude that that senator or congressman will feel to a PAC, which is spending an enormous amount of money in his district or in his state for his election.”

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