Why You Should Care About Campaign Finance Restrictions (or Lack Thereof)

Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court (the high and mighty, till near death do they depart, nine person panel of judicial leaders) struck down the current cap an individual has to abide by when donating to multiple political campaigns in the case of McCutcheon v. FEC.

Basically, before the ruling, wealthy donors such as the Alabama businessman (McCutcheon) who brought forth the case were only allowed to donate $2,600 dollars per candidate every two years, with a total contribution cap of $48,000 dollars. Thus allowing donors to give $2,600 to about 18 candidates in total.

However, thanks to a slim majority of Supreme Court Justices, that cap has been eliminated completely, and now anyone from a rich businessman, a lobbyist, or an evil genius can donate $2,600 dollars to as many candidates as he or she wants.

I know, I know, you’re probably thinking: “Why does it matter for me? I would never give $2,600 to a single political candidate, let alone a whole bunch; I need that money for rent.” Or, “I’d maybe give them like $5, if I thought they were cool.” Or,  “The government is messed up and they never get anything done, why would I give candidates my hard earned money?”

Well, readers, you should care because this is part of the problem, a HUGE part of the problem with federal politics. And with this new ruling, it has only gotten worse.

Think about it, wealthy donors now have the ability to wield their influence and essentially “talk” with their money by donating large sums to as many candidates as they want. For instance, let’s say a donor has a special interest in big oil, and knows it will cost his oil company over $5 million to update their infrastructure in order to abide with federal regulations. For him, it seems much easier to take $2 million, donate it to a large number of candidates running for office that agree with lower regulation standards, and poof! He gets what he wants, and in five years when a major oil spill ruins your beach vacation, you have another reason to be angry with the government for being inefficient.

So what does that mean for the menial voter? Does your vote still count? Yes, it does; luckily we are a democracy where elected officials can’t win without the majority vote of constituents. However, without a cap on how much money can be spread by donors with special interests during elections, candidates will be under more pressure to fundraise, rather than directly engage with their constituents.

Money for a candidate equals visibility, and the more the better. Therefore, we as voters are left with candidates who have a debt to pay. They need you to vote for them to get elected, but they also needed to take money from a big donor in order for you to realize you should vote for them. So you do, and they get elected to Congress. However, when it comes time for that Congressman or Senator to vote on an important issue, such as establishing tighter regulations for big oil companies, does your five-dollar donation and one vote speak louder than the big oil donor’s two thousand dollar donation and forty votes he wrangled for the candidate in his or her district?

I think you know the answer.

So what’s the solution? Honestly, the answer is simple: public financing. Candidates would be funded out of the government budget, ranging from direct subsidies of political parties, to government matched funds on small donations, or even lowered rates on campaign materials. This kind of financing guarantees every voter has a direct investment in the political process and keeps big donations (that look an awful lot like bribes) out of the election cycle. Numerous countries in Europe and the country of South Africa have already established public financing systems to much success. And it’s not just a foreign concept; there are over twenty states in the US that have created some form of optional public finance system for their statewide elections.

Though, pending the results of McCutcheon v. FEC it doesn’t seem like the United States Federal Government is headed towards a widespread public financing system anytime soon, and the more campaign finance laws and regulations the Supreme Court eliminates, the quieter and quieter the everyday voter will become to a federal candidate.


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