Campaign Finance Reform
Why we need campaign finance reform
The case against campaign finance reform
By Andrew Figueiredo
By Dody Eid
Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1825 to warn Americans about those who “look to a single and splendid government of an Aristocracy, founded on banking institutions and moneyed in corporations under the guise and cloak of their favored branches of manufactures”. We must look to his words when evaluating the need for serious campaign finance reform and seeking to fulfill the ideals of our founding fathers.
For countless years, corporations were totally banned from having a say in federal elections. Even in modern times, corporate political influence was strictly limited, preserving the fairness of our electoral system. However, recent court decisions including Citizens United obliterated the commonsense financing restrictions that existed for many years, creating a political donation free-for-all. Congress is dripping with corruption in both parties thanks to the asinine lack of commonsense campaign finance regulations. This leads to a lack of productivity and a breakdown of our entire system.
Am I the only one who sees this madness as a fundamental breach of the principles our country was founded on?
Since the Citizens United decision, corporations and individuals alike can funnel unlimited amounts of money into Political Action Committees (PACs). PACs do not have to disclose their donation receipts, meaning voters have no clue what groups are influencing elections from the shadows for their own goals.
While theoretically not allowed to coordinate with campaigns, PACs run advertisements and lead initiatives to get their preferred candidate(s) elected. Studies show that legislative behavior is influenced by special interest money, demonstrating how PACs and lobbyists play politicians like puppets. Thanks to the reign of PACs, legislators are unwilling to vote their conscience, instead bowing at the altar of lobbyist groups, even on issues where there is a popular consensus. Many are so afraid of facing big money opposition that they toe the line for large donors instead of the American people.
The current campaign finance system supports those who claim that money is speech and that corporations are effectively the same as people. This method of thinking lends itself to the creation of the very aristocracy Thomas Jefferson so feared. The current campaign finance system amplifies the voices of the super rich at the expense of common Americans, which is an affront to democracy, which fundamentally exists on the concept of an equal voice for every participant.
Moreover, conservatives want to take government out of business, but conveniently omit the fact that business needs to be taken out of government first to create open markets and a representative system. Crony capitalism builds a culture of quid-pro-quo exchange between politicians and big businesses that flourishes thanks to a lack of commonsense regulations. Koch offshoot ALEC, which receives millions of dollars each year in corporate funding, provides a perfect example. ALEC writes legislation and then provides lobbyist kickbacks to lawmakers who vote for their bills. Many companies on ALEC’s board benefit from legislation the organization writes. Is it then any coincidence that ALEC’s laws disproportionally benefit corporations and the wealthy? Everyday Americans who do not possesses the resources to pass sweeping legislation suffer when corporate legislation drains their pensions, privatizes their services, and ravages their safety net programs. The quid-pro-quo system even leads to complex regulations that small businesses struggle to comply with while large corporations find ways around. Unlimited corporate donations and loose lobbying laws lead to preferential treatment and unfairness.
We must overturn the Citizens United decision, reform lobbying, and restore democracy to prevent the concentration of power at the top of the social strata. Elite corporate interests should not be allowed to drown out the voices of everyday Americans and form the aristocracy Thomas Jefferson warned us about.
At first glance, the idea of “getting big money out of politics” sounds like an idea everyone should support; why would we allow our democracy, intended for all of its citizens, to be completely controlled by the top 1%? Digging deeper into the question of campaign finance reform, however, leads to three critical questions we should be asking ourselves before giving government power to control campaign contributions. First, what basic rights do we hold when supporting candidates in elections? How much should government restrict these rights, if they exist? What have been the results of elections taking in big money, i.e. is there a causal relationship between amount spent and election outcome? Exploring these questions has led me to the following proposal: allow unlimited contributions while maintaining 100% transaction transparency.
Let’s address the first question. The human right to support a political candidate for office is an essential element of our democracy. Whether it’s donating time to volunteer or donating money for a campaign jet with a “stronger together” logo, donation in support of a cause, idea, or person allows anyone to be involved in any way they choose. Now you may be wondering, “what if someone is using his or her money to corrupt a candidate and/or get that candidate to support legislation that would harm the country while helping a special interest?” Though ideally we would want to stop such corruption, the reality is such negotiations are difficult to pinpoint as corrupt; if a billionaire donates to his longtime friend in New York running for Senate, is he corrupting him or simply supporting him and his ideals? This question should not, and cannot, be answered by the government. In fact, giving government the ability to limit campaign donations or even take control of the process can be a detriment to our rights as citizens. Furthermore, such attempts at limiting spending have failed because money has always found the backdoors necessary to continue. Instead of giving government the authority to shut down what it deems to be corruption, it should be up to us, the voting population, to decide who is being corrupted and how much money is too much money. The best way to ensure an informed voting public is to ensure transparency.
If contributions/donations are made transparent, voters have more information to make an informed voting decision. At the end of the day, voters decide who wins elections. Let the informed citizenry be a check on money, rather than government bureaucrats who are also easily corrupted. Transparency leads to informed voting which leads to a check on corruption, and it does so without violating any basic human right. If people believe that the billionaire is corrupting his Wall Street buddy, then they shouldn’t vote for him. The public is the ultimate check on big money. The power of the voter leads to my third question. Does big money guarantee victory?
Let’s look at two of the most recent, most influential elections in U.S. Politics. In the 2012 Presidential Election, Mitt Romney spent a total of $1,254,323,304 on the election, while President Obama spent $1,144,965,831. It’s clear that money balanced out between the two candidates, and the candidate with less money even ended up winning. Take a look at the 2016 Republican Primaries. Donald Trump raised approximately $67.1 Million while Jeb Bush raised approximately $162.1 Million, Ted Cruz reached $158 Million, and Marco Rubio got to around $125 Million. If money controlled the political process, Trump shouldn’t have had a “snowball’s chance in Haiti” (as Dave Santere likes to put it) of winning that election. But he did. The voting population was not swayed by the money. Elections like these prove that the 1% is not the master of political outcomes. The voting public is the master of political outcomes. That is the beauty of democracy.
The questions of campaign finance reform are at a fundamental level questions of human rights in a democratic system. The two can certainly be at odds, but if we ensure transparency while giving the freedom to donate however, whenever, and in whatever amount, our country will enjoy the blessings of freedom and equality at the polls this November.