US offers Anson Chan and Martin Lee a poor example of democracy | South China Morning Post
  • Wed
  • Mar 4, 2015
  • Updated: 3:26pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 April, 2014, 4:48am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 April, 2014, 6:26am

US offers Anson Chan and Martin Lee a poor example of democracy

It's ironic Anson Chan Fang On-sang and Martin Lee Chu-ming visited Washington a day after the US Supreme Court dealt a severe blow to representative democracy by making that nation truly fit for its top 1 per cent.

The top court's latest decision on election campaign financing offers an object lesson in the corruption of free speech and the promotion of inequality by the rule of law. It's unclear what the two pan-democratic elders hoped to accomplish with the US visit. Perhaps the lawyer and ex-civil servant could learn something about how power, influence and favour in a democracy can be bought and sold under the law.

In a deeply divided ruling by the top justices, a decades-old cap on the amount people can contribute to candidates in federal elections has been nullified. Technically, it still retains some current limits. But in effect, in the words of one of four dissenting judges, the overall contribution has been raised to "the number infinity". An earlier ruling by the top court had already enabled corporations to make unlimited donations through vehicles called "super PACs". The richest people and the most powerful corporations in the US can now give as much money as they wish to politicians and political causes or movements they champion.

Through a most peculiar interpretation, the rationale offered by the five-judge majority ruling is that, in a nutshell, the First Amendment rights of free speech trump political equality, and this means individuals should not, as a matter of principle, be restrained by federal laws in how much they can donate to election candidates. It may still be "one person one vote" so idealised by our pan-democrats, but the sway of the billionaire who gives US$100 million will make the small donation and a vote from a poor US citizen rather irrelevant. Tom Steyer, a billionaire hedge fund manager, is planning to donate just that amount to influence the outcomes of the upcoming midterm elections. Hiring the services of political parties and their politicians has never been easier for the rich and powerful.

But at least Lee and Chan are also visiting Canada, which, along with Sweden, Norway and Denmark, offers far better models of democracy, freedom and equality for Hong Kong.

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