March 22: Dark Money in the Gate

They hate the one who reproves in the gate,
   and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.
Therefore, because you trample on the poor
   and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
   but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
   but you shall not drink their wine. 
For I know how many are your transgressions,
   and how great are your sins —
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
   and push aside the needy in the gate.
Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time,
   for it is an evil time.
Amos 5:10-13

You may have noticed that the prophets often spoke about justice “in the gate.” What does this mean?

Ancient cities were usually surrounded by a wall, with one main gate. Just inside this entrance could be found a large public gathering spot where the elderly men of the city spent their days, hearing cases and disputes that were brought to them by citizens. The men would rule on these cases, thus it was a place where justice was administered.

Amos complained that this is a place where injustice reigned. Instead of impartial and honest judges, the men who sat in the gate took bribes and disregarded the needy.

The prophet infers that the wealthy and powerful pressured the judges to rule in their favor, disregarding them when they spoke the truth.

As Judge Neil Gorsuch endures his confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court, it would be good and right for us to consider whether the same problem is in effect in our own justice system.

In 2010, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission which fundamentally altered the shape of the American political system. The Court ruled that corporations and labor unions could spend as much money as they wanted on political campaigns, as long as they did not actually act in concert with such campaigns. 

A subsequent lower court ruling determined that there was no financial limit on how much could be contributed to independent organizations, leading directly to the creation of “super PACs” which have spent millions of dollars on political advertising since. Furthermore, “social welfare” groups and some other nonprofits don’t even have to disclose who their donors are, creating a lack of transparency in the process.

The result seems to be that money, more than ever, drives our political system. Those with the most, get the most out of the vote.

How do the poor get justice out of the legislative process? Who represents them? Who advocates on their behalf? Who will find justice in the gate?

Prayer: God, when the poor cannot be assured of finding justice in the gate, you cannot be happy. When the powerful thrive at the expense of the weak, you can only be angry. May we become advocates for truth in our time. Amen.

Justice Challenge: According to this article from The Atlantic, perhaps the best way that citizens can address the problem of dark money in elections, is to work for reform in state legislatures. Earlier this session, the Texas Senate unanimously passed an ethics reform bill which stopped short of banning dark money or serious campaign reform. Keep watch over this issue, and the influence of lobbyists in general, with Texans for Public Justice, at www.tpj.org.