Campaign finance changes distort democratic processes

The Better UTAH Beat airs Tuesday afternoons on KVNU’s For the People. Podcasts of previous episodes are available here.
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Unless you’ve been living off the grid, you probably heard last week that the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional various limits on campaign donations.

In McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court eliminated the aggregate limits placed on campaign donations. Before the Supreme Court’s ruling, there were regulations in place that said donors could not contribute more than $117,000 in a given election cycle–way more than most Americans could ever dream of spending. Those regulations were put in place in the wake of the Nixon scandal to avoid undue influence over our elected officials. Turns out, 100K was too low of a bar for the current roster of Supreme Court justices. Now, the ultra rich can donate as much as they’d like.

However, McCutcheon is only the latest in a series of assaults, beginning with the Citizens United case in 2010, on restrictions designed to reduce corruption and political bribery in national elections.

If you’ll recall, Citizens United opened the floodgates for unfettered corporate involvement–or perhaps investment is a better word–in elections by equating freedom of speech with political donations. In other words: Money equals speech. The result of the Citizens United decision was an unprecedented amount of money flowing into political campaigns.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the organization that runs opensecrets.org and tracks campaign finance laws and spending, the election cycles directly after Citizens United saw the highest amount of campaign spending in history. In 2012, outside spending–in other words, money spent by groups that were not candidates–totalled a whopping $1 billion for the first time ever. That was three times higher than the amount of money spent in 2008, and a full $600 million of that money came from Super PACs.

Super PACs are dangerous to democracy because, whether liberal or conservative, these special shelters allow for large sums of money to be donated anonymously and without limit on how much they can spend. Although a Super PAC can’t coordinate directly with a campaign, it’s pretty clear whose side they are on.

The super-rich and super-creepy casino owner Sheldon Adelson spent over $50 million trying to get his candidates elected. You’d have to be naive to think that that sort of money–even if it isn’t donated directly to a specific campaign–doesn’t buy some kind of influence. Had Mitt Romney won the presidential election in 2012, you can bet he’d prioritize a call from Sheldon Adelson over your own.

We wholeheartedly condemn unlimited campaign donations. More money in politics, despite its equation with speech, does not produce a more robust political discourse. What it does do, is continue to accord enormous amounts of power to the very wealthy, while diminishing the power of ordinary Americans like you and me. Freedom of speech was instituted so citizens could freely criticize their government–not so the ultra rich could institute their own government.

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