An argument for Campaign finance Reform that makes sense
I wrote a hub two years ago describing why I was opposed to efforts at campaign finance “reform’ and supported the much derided Citizens United Supreme Court decision. I still stand by that position, but there is one argument for reform that is often stated by proponents that I didn’t address in that initial hub, and the reason I didn’t address it is because I think it is actually a legitimate point from the other side. I’d thought I’d address my view on that crucial argument here.
Campaign finance reform proponents claim that having rich people dominate our elections and the money funneled into political campaigns drowns out the voices of “average” people. Or to put it in less loaded language, because campaign donations tend to come from the more affluent members of the public, that tends to drown out the voice of middle class and especially poorer people, which supposedly skews the debate in favor of the concerns of the rich and not the poor.
I actually think this is a legitimate concern. One of the reasons I oppose efforts at public funding of campaigns is because it can either squeeze out or even ban private donations from members of the public. It seems quite American to me to have political candidates be supported by the voluntary contributions of concerned private citizens, rather than a handout from the government, which almost always comes with strings attached. That’s the way I think it should work. But liberals often argue that the richer members of the public, who make up the bulk of candidates’ private funding in the U.S. are hardly representative of middle class or poorer people, who tend to give much less. This may be true. Because I support political campaigns being funded by private citizens, I certainly would prefer that the donations be representative of a more broad section of society, including poor people. I think it’s true that the views of the rich and those of the poor tend to be different on many subjects, and it seems like polling information confirms this. Ideally, money donated to political campaigns would come from a broad and representative cross-section of citizens, including the concerns of every class of people. That’s why I have less objection to campaign finance efforts that would involve giving vouchers to members of the public where they could give the money to the candidate, party, or Super PAC of their choice.
Why I don’t buy it
But here’s why I still can’t get on board with any effort at campaign finance reform, even with this admittedly compelling argument. Are the political views of the rich really that significantly different from the views of middle class or even poor people? I mean, there is a gap, but leftists make it sound like their candidates are strapped for money in elections compared to conservatives. But Barack Obama got plenty of money in the last election and according to Opensecrets.org, a website dedicated to investigating money in politics, he actually raised more money than Romney ($715, 677,692 to Romney’s $446,135,997. Link). Obama did seem to get more money through smaller contributors than Romney, but I guess that’s to be expected.
Also, people who give to political campaigns are seen to be overwhelmingly Republican. This is doubtful, given that funding disparities in most races don’t seem to be that unequal. In any case, according to the 2014 Pew Research Center Political Polarization survey, an equal amount of Republicans and Democrats (18%) said that they had given money to a political candidate or PAC in the last two years. The only disparity seemed to be among those who lean Republican or Democrat. Those who lean Republican were slightly more likely to have given money to a political candidate or group than those who leaned Democrat (13% vs. 11%). (link).
In any case, if your concern is to have poor people get more influence, why not support the voucher proposal I mentioned in the first paragraph of this hub rather than public funding of campaigns? That would be a more effective way to know whether elections were truly decided by the people. But with just public funding, the government would be controlling the way in which candidates speak, and even how much they speak, and they would be controlling who received the funding. All of this would probably favor a particular kind of candidate over another, likely more populist or liberal candidates. Liberals may say this is a good thing. But it’s not, because it would skew our elections even more in a different direction. And public funding hardly lets the people decide, because taxpayers don’t have a choice where their tax dollars go. While I ultimately don’t support the voucher proposal, I have more respect for such a type of reform than public funding or restricting donations or banning issue ads.
Also, campaign vouchers would put to the test the dubious assertion by leftists that the only reason more radical left-wing parties or candidates (like the Green Party) don’t have success in the U.S. is because middle or lower class people won’t or can’t afford to give and because rich people are unwilling to fund their campaigns. If poorer people have vouchers, we could put that assertion to the test, couldn’t we? Of course, a big problem with campaign vouchers is that people who often don’t care about politics and aren’t informed (like many lower-class people), would give out vouchers carelessly, which is one reason why the voucher proposal is flawed. Still, at least then we could figure out if such a questionable assertion is true or not.
In any case, the bottom line for me is that even if the rich tend to dominate the funding of political campaigns, you can’t ban it regardless because it is free speech. Donating to a political candidate or PAC is a component of free speech, and those dreaded ‘issue ads” are also free speech too, regardless of how much people dislike them. The rich may not be a representative sample of the public, but they are still members of the public and deserve to express themselves and their views. I’m not much of a class warrior, so in some sense, I don’t care who is doing the donating as long as they get to express themselves rich or poor. The rich may not be “the people’ in a broad sense, but they are still people who are allowed to express themselves in this country, and should be allowed.