Campaign cash poor substitute for free speech
As entertaining as I find the idea of politicians becoming walking billboards that tour the country like logo-covered race cars, and as much as I like dystopian futures where the rich dominate the masses, I am far from excited by the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on campaign finance.
Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission opened up political financing (that may or may not have already been happening behind the scenes) by removing the caps that previously limited how much an individual can donate in total to federal election candidates.
This means that you or I — scratch that, rich people can donate as much money as they want to federal candidates, as long as they don’t give more than $5,200 per candidate. This means that although a person can donate no more than this amount to a single candidate, they can donate millions to causes and to groups of candidates.
I am not against being wealthy. If you are wealthy, congratulations. You can waste your money however you want: Piss it away on cars, real estate, dumb investments, or bet it on a horse — hell, burn stacks of it in front of me. That’s fine. You earned it, and I didn’t.
However, unlike a pile of burning money, the money a person donates to political causes can affect all of our lives.
In my eyes, the political process is about equality and doing what is best for the people who elect you, and allowing large donations only ensures interest in doing what brings in money. We should all be able to donate to campaigns, but only in smaller amounts, so that candidates and parties are
not dominated by money coming from a few very wealthy people.
The Supreme Court’s decision wasn’t the be all, end all of fair campaigns. It’s only the latest setback to come since the Supreme Court decided on the Citizen’s United case in 2010.
The Citizen’s United decision allowed corporations, unions and organizations to give unlimited donations to political causes, effectively treating them as people — except that they’re larger and much richer than most of the population.
Those who support the Supreme Court’s rulings argue that campaign contributions are just aspects of a person’s ability to exercise their free speech. However, free speech is not based on income, and one’s ability to support candidates or causes should not be based on dollar amounts.
Since Citizen’s United, politics in the U.S. have changed drastically. An article by Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post describes increased spending by outside groups in elections.
“Spending at this point in the 2014 cycle is already almost three times as much as it was at this time in the 2010 election,” Cillizza writes. “And it’s 25 times more than at this point in the 2006 election.”
Furthermore, Cillizza’s piece showcases that spending has increased dramatically with both left- and right-leaning groups.
To many, Citizen’s United is an issue of people like the Koch brothers pouring money into groups to help conservatives nationally through large super political action committees. However, the issue is on both sides of the aisle, and politicizing it does little to solve the problems these cases create.
The real problem is less about who is using PACs or donating, and more that our political system is so reliant on PACs and super PACs that they have become a necessity.
Once PACs became a legal option for candidates, it became impossible to run without their support, even if the politicians were once opposed to them. To participate in the race, to get equal coverage, they needed the money.
The greatest tragedy, though, is that the decisions in these cases are likely permanent. While the court’s decision on McCutcheon was controversial, it — like Citizen’s United — will stand and become a part of our political system.
If we cannot reverse the Court’s decisions, then we need to look to other solutions, such as limitations on how large a campaign’s budget can be.
In limiting campaign budgets, we will not kill the PACs. However, we can limit their effect, hopefully reducing the damage caused by the current system.
I encourage and hope that the courts go no further in wrecking our campaign finance system, and that people take action for equality in our system.
Eric Klump is a journalism senior. Follow him @ericklump