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Money in Politics
Show Me The Money
Money in Politics
What’s the most accurate way to predict the winner of a congressional race? Is it party? Is it policy? Is it ideology? The answer is none of these. It’s money. Ninety-Three percent of the time, the candidate with more money wins. This is a disturbing trend in American politics, and it’s threatening to get a lot worse.
First, a brief history. In the 1976 Supreme Court case, Buckley v. Valeo, the Court ruled that money was speech, but allowed limits on how it could be used in campaigns. Then, the court put that decision on steroids in the 2010 case Citizens United v. FEC, where the court opened up the door for more groups to use money to influence elections. One of the last regulations on campaign finance is that a person cannot directly give more than $123,200 to a candidate or party in a given election cycle. At least, that was one of the final regulations. Now, a new Supreme Court Case, McCutcheon v. FEC threatens to eliminate even that. There are, of course, loopholes in all this legal language, such as there being unlimited individual expenditures, but let’s ignore those for a moment. What McCutcheon threatens, is to increase that $123,200 amount to $3.5 million per political party, for a whooping total of $7 million in a given 2 year election cycle.
Now, I’d like my political voice heard just as much as the next person, but I don’t know many people that have voices louder than $7 million. And that’s the problem, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has already ruled that money equals speech. This implies that I could somehow use rhetoric to out persuade someone who’s just bribed the politician with $3.5 million. And if I go to another candidate, or another party, they’ve also been bribed $3.5 million by possibly the same person. In fact, forget the $3.5 million, even the current figure at $123,200 is obscene. How can the average person, who makes around $50,000 a year, compete? Simply put, they cannot.
But, there’s still a chance that this won’t happen. The SCOTUS could, potentially, deem this unconstitutional. Granted, they’re arguably the most conservative court in history, they’ve shown no sign that they care about the average person with case after case going in favor of big business while crushing the consumer, and granted they were appointed by presidents who were elected under the influence of this same big money; but, maybe they’ll draw a line in the sand here. I wouldn’t hold my breath.
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Antonin Scalia has some, should we say, interesting quotes on this subject. Justice Scalia, said, “The aggregate limits are not ‘stopping big money in politics.’” Yes, Scalia, we know this. You helped put this “big money” into politics with the Citizens United case. So why is your solution to add more money, and more corruption to this system? How will adding more money help? But, perhaps his most famous quote (famous to political addicts like myself, anyway) was when he said, “I don’t think 3.5 million is a heck of a lot of money.” Actually, maybe he has a point here: I did find $3.5 million on the ground the other day when I was walking through the Canisius tunnels. But in all seriousness, Scalia’s quotes show that, if nothing else, certain Justices of the Court are at least out of touch with today’s America, which does not bode well for the average person in this case.
In Buckley v. Valeo, the Court ruled that political donations were acceptable as long as there wasn’t the “appearance of corruption”. This now seems laughable. How can you bribe someone and not have an appearance of corruption? There are by far more people who believe the political system is corrupt as opposed to people who believe otherwise. But at least it was something. Now, if McCutcheon gets his way, the “appearance of corruption” standard might disappear completely. If there was blatant bribery when this standard was in place, I can only imagine what it will be like without it. Will lobbyists simply walk up behind politicians and stuff checks into their pockets during debates? I literally don’t know how things could appear more corrupt than they already do.
Take these most recent elections from last Tuesday, for example. Look at almost any gubernatorial or mayoral race, and you’ll see that the candidate with more money won. It may have been the case in every election this year for all I know, and if anyone knows of one where that wasn’t true, I’d sincerely like to hear it. But, the important thing to remember here is that this money doesn’t disappear after election day. No, those bribes must be repaid—and that’s what they are, bribes. You don’t hand over $123,200 (soon to be $3.5 million) of your own money without expecting something in return. Do you really think the country continues to use taxpayer money to subsidize oil companies because the poor C.E.Os are barely scraping by? No, it’s because they place bribes and then they get a return on investment.
Do You Believe Political Contributions Corrupt the Current Political System?
There is a solution to this problem, however, and the SCOTUS is not it. A group appointed by the same people who benefit from big money, will not stop big money. Even if McCutcheon doesn’t succeed, there’s already too much corruption. Instead, the only answer is a constitutional amendment that outlaws these political donations, and instead creates public financing of elections. This amendment will have to be organized at the local level where there is still some actual representation, and called for by the states. Congress will never do the amendment for the same reason the Supreme Court won’t: they’re part of the problem. Such movements already exist, one of the strongest of which is Wolf PAC, but it will still be an uphill battle.
I would love for the SCOTUS to surprise me and deny McCutcheon, but this looks improbable at best given their record on consumer rights and even on this issue specifically. Yet, for all the hype, this case is almost irrelevant. Can it really get much worse than 93% of elections going to the person with more money? The solution is a constitutional amendment, not the Court.
- Wolf PAC
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