Sicko Part 3: Follow the Money

Among the more powerful scenes in Sicko is Moore's literal placement of price tags on the heads of Senators and Representatives (of both parties) reflecting how much money their campaigns have received from pharmaceutical companies, HMOs and other health care industry interests. Yet---spoiler alert!---the final scene shows Moore traipsing over to Congress to see whether he can get some action. Okay, technically he goes to ask them to do his laundry, but the viewer understands that this is really a call for the people to rise up to demand a fundamental change in our health care system.

The underlying culprit, however, as Moore seems to realize, is our system of campaign finance. So long as well-heeled interests can legally "buy" support for their positions in Congress, little is likely to change. And today's Supreme Court decision in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life indicates that things will get worse before they get better. The ruling says that the First Amendment bars the regulation of so-called "issue ads" by corporations and unions, unless "the ad is susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate." That means that candidates who favor health care reform that the pharmaceutical and insurance companies oppose can expect to see hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars worth of ads attacking them, with some boilerplate like "Call Congressman Smith and tell him to stop harming our seniors" thrown in to avoid FEC scrutiny. (Rick Pildes has a nice explanation of the case's significance here.) Because this is a constitutional ruling, there's nothing Congress can do about it, even if it wants to. We just have to wait for personnel change on the Supreme Court.

So maybe Michael Moore should have asked Chief Justice Roberts to do his laundry.