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SUPPORT FOR CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM

 

The notion that money influences the political process is not, nor could it ever be, exclusively associated with contemporary politics. It has long been asserted that money drives politics and that graft is often a by-product of holding political office. 
Campaign finance reform began in earnest in the post-Watergate era in the United States with the passage of the Federal Election Campaign Act which created the Federal Election Commission, implemented disclosure requirements, donation limits, and federal financing of Presidential elections.
 
A Look Back in History
 
In the 1800s, politicians would have to use their own funds, as well as the funds that came from their supporters, in order to persuade the public into liking them and into going along with their message and line of thought. This can even be traced to incidents of bribery, and as we all know, bribery is completely unaccepted.
Back in the days, political groups used to threaten corporations into financing their campaigns, and that meant that the most influential politicians had incredible financial advantages over other politicians that did not have as much influence at the time. This meant that even though one could be a million times better than the other, the ruler of the nation would be determined by money and power, not ability.
President Theodore Roosevelt was the very first president that actually had something to say against this and that spoke supporting such a reform. In his actions against the campaign finance issue, he supported a lot of bills that were going to aid in the reform, but even though he clearly supported them, congress decided not to pass these bills. In 1907, the Tillman Act was passed, and this made it completely legal for corporations to be able to financially support campaigns directly.
 
Major Reform in the 1970’s
 
Even though the issue had been around since the 1800s, the first major reform that was done about it only happened in the 1970s. It was during these years that the Federal Election Campaign Act was passed (1971) and this act increased the transparency that political parties needed to have regarding their campaigns. In order to increase transparency, political parties had to disclose all of their funds.
 
From The 1980’s to the 2000’s
 
The debate around campaign finance reform as pretty quiet through this time, but it then quickly came back to the news and into the minds of the public. In 2002, there was the McCain-Feingold bill, and it made it so that money could not be donated to a candidate, but it actually had to be donated to a specific party instead. This made it to the minds and mouths of the public so badly that is was a heavy influence on the campaign finance reform of today.
 
Democracy is above all a process of citizen participation, with government accountable to the people. But it is precisely that necessary participation and accountability that have been weakened and eroded by big contributors who dominate the private financing of campaigns.
 
  • Voter turnout for elections is far lower than in most other democracies. A turnout rate of only around 50% is typical, even for high-profile races.
  • Cynicism about politics and government is rampant as people see: a) the influence of big contributors on laws and policy and b) the corruption scandals involving campaign contributions.
  • The cost of running for office continues to escalate. Few citizens can afford the huge cost of running for office at any level of government.
  • Uncontested and non-competitive elections have increased in frequency, with a re-election rate of incumbents that tops 90% in both federal and state races. Incumbents regularly out-spend challengers by margins of 4 to 1.
  • In 2010, the Supreme Court reversed a 100 year-old ban on corporate and union expenditures on political speech, unleashing unlimited spending from these sources. The “Citizen’s United” decision has worsened the dominance of corporate influence in our democracy.
  • In 2014, the Court’s McCutcheon decision raised the limit of individual contributions to national party and federal candidate committees from a little over $200,000 to over $3 million (essentially no limit at all on what one person can contribute). The Supreme Court has declared war on campaign finance reform and exponentially raised the power of individuals and corporations to control our elections, laws and democracy.
  • The number of bright young people who want to spend their lives in politics or government service has declined as the price of participation has risen.
  • Fewer than 1% of Americans contribute the vast majority of private money going to fund campaigns.
  • Too many politicians are forced to spend up to 20 hours a week raising money rather than solving our country’s pressing problems.
  • National polling has consistently shown that large majorities of the American people distrust the government because they believe that wealthy special interests have more influence in Washington and in state capitols than do voters.
  • Polls also showed that over 2/3 of voters say we need changes to the way elections are financed.
 
What can we do?
 
In response there has emerged a pro-democracy movement, committed to deepening the democratic process in the United States. Fundamental to this movement is the struggle to change the way election campaigns are financed, especially by ensuring public financing for serious candidates. Fundamentally a democracy can only be as strong as its elections — elections in which many ideas are heard and where citizens actively engage by running for office, participating in debate, and voting.
Private money in elections undermines a truly democratic political process. Changing the way elections are financed is the first and most important step in resolving this shameful situation. If private money continues to dominate American politics, the desires of the affluent will control legislation and the rest of us will be ignored. If we change campaign finance laws, we will help create the real democracy most of us want — one in which laws and policy reflect the will of the majority of the American people.
 
What is wrong with the present system?
 
  • Politicians, who depend on huge sums of money to run their campaigns, respond more to the concerns of wealthy donors and special interests than they do to the concerns of voters.
  • Affordable health care policy has been held hostage to big contributors who fight reform.
  • Protecting the environment is a low priority for legislators who take big campaign contributions from oil and energy companies.
  • Providing more affordable college loans and grants is fought by banks and college-loan companies.
  • Our foreign policy is too often influenced by the economic interests of big donors rather than by welfare of our country.
  • Huge contributions by banks and the financial industry have ensured that real regulation of Wall Street has been blocked, while our economy has suffered.
  • The safety of our food supply takes second place to the interests of companies that contribute millions to politicians every year.
  • Funding for research and for higher education lags as college tuitions rise and legislators vote for tax breaks for big campaign contributors.
  • Lobbyists representing wealthy contributors gain privileged access to elected officials, while ordinary citizens have to stand in line or rely on sending emails.
  • Precious tax dollars are wasted in the form of pay-backs to wealthy special interests who have filled campaign coffers.
 
You name the issue, and it has a link back to political decisions made by elected officials who are indebted for campaign contributions to a small group of wealthy special interests.
Everyone knows there is something wrong – that the system is broken – but they think there is nothing we can do.
 
Is there a solution?
 
It is obvious that to sustain a democracy and solve the many problems we face as a country, we need to reform the way private money dominates our elections. Citizens throughout the country have been organizing together since the early 1990’s to correct these problems by instituting systems of public financing of elections, often called Voter-Owned Clean Elections (CE) or Fair Elections.
Reforms of campaign contribution laws for state-level races have passed in Connecticut (2005); Maine (1996); Arizona (1998) for state elections; and in the cities of Albuquerque, NM (2005) and Portland, OR (2005) for municipal elections. In addition, New Mexico passed CE for the state races for its Public Regulation Commission; New Jersey for two state Assembly districts; and North Carolina and New Mexico for Appellate and Supreme Court judges.
Legislation has been introduced at both the city and state level in many states limiting contributions and providing public funding for qualified candidates. Fair Elections type legislation successfully passed in places like Maine, Arizona, Connecticut, New York City and Los Angeles among others.
At the federal level, legislation that would provide public funding for Congressional candidates has been introduced in almost every session of Congress, but has failed to pass both houses (so far!)
And in response to Supreme Court decisions on Citizens United and McCutcheon, a national movement to amend the Constitution has emerged. There are many such amendments suggested, but the basic idea is that Congress would be enabled to enact legislation to reverse dangerous Supreme Court decisions like Buckley v. Valeo and Citizens United and rein in the unprecedented flood of secret money in the campaign finance system. Such an amendment would allow Congress to regulate the raising and spending of money, including so-called “Super PAC” independent expenditures, while giving states the same authority to regulate campaign finance at their level.
 
Campaign finance reform advances the objectives of a broader marketplace of ideas and of free speech, assembly, and thought. 
 
Under the present system, minor party candidates voices are trampled by the booming voice of large, well-funded campaign operations. The heavy cost of campaigning discourages many potential candidates from entering contests 
 
Campaign finance reform gives the individual donor a voice more comparable to other interest groups. 
 
At present, the enormous amount of money channelled into campaigns by large corporations, unions, and special interest groups (Political Action Committees) overwhelm the smaller, limited contributions of individual donors. Under many campaign finance proposals, limits are suggested for these large group donations. Such limits increase the significance of donations by individual voters, likely increasing the responsiveness of candidates to voters/donors and accountability. Additionally, the increased significance of individual contributions encourages voter participation and activism. 
 
Campaign finance reform will reduce corruption in government by discouraging candidates from “selling themselves” to special interests bidding for their votes.
 
Candidates will be less beholden to special interests, and thus, more amenable to listening to good reasons when making decisions about public policy. 
 
Campaign finance reform would “level” the playing field for candidates. 
 
Candidates of enormous leadership potential but small wallets have failed due to the lack of resources. Under a reformed campaign finance system it will be more difficult for well-financed candidates to win purely because of the money they have. Incumbent candidates have a unique advantage over challengers in the present system because of their direct connections to important sources of money. 
 
Campaign finance reform will make elections more competitive, thus resulting in more turnover or “fresh blood” in politics. 
 
This is valuable in challenging old orthodoxies and bringing in new ideas. It will also make it easier for members of ethnic minorities and the working class to seek office - such groups are disproportionately deterred from candidacy by the current need to raise huge sums of money.
 
The Public Knows Who Supports Who.
 
With the campaign finance reform, the public will know exactly where the money for each party came from, and that means that the public is going to know exactly who is supporting who. This means that the public can make informed decisions as to why a politician might be defending something that doesn’t seem correct, and what would a politician gain in winning a determined type of preposition. Simply put, there will be a lot more transparency in the world of politics due to financial restraints.
 
Less Power to Campaigns.
 
Politicians running determined types of political campaigns can no longer decide to bribe corporations into supporting them, and that is one of the biggest benefits that campaign finance reform could bring to the country. Now, political campaigns have less power to abuse corporations and to gain their support through influential force.
This means that it is a step towards the cleansing of the political world, and that in itself is going to increase the amount of available funds for political campaigns, since a lot of these funds are spent on things such as bribes and donations that intend to gain support through power and influence, rather than righteousness and honesty.

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