Is there too much money in politics? I think that’s a rhetorical question, but not everyone agrees. There should be consensus that there is a lot of money making that political world go ‘round today. That I hope we can objectively agree this is not a controversial contention. I mean, politicians’ faces are on money. That should tell us something.
2012 was our first Presidential election post-Citizen’s United. The final tally was $1.1 billion spent, and that’s just what we know about. This figure does not include the GOP primary campaigns. Sheldon Adelson gave $10 million to Newt Gingrich and $10 million to Mitt Romney and we’re expected to believe that this was purely humanitarian aid without future strings attached. When a billionaire drops $10 million, he has an agenda.
The average member of Congress – and we wish they were at least average – has to spend 4 hours of every day for their entire term focused on raising money for reelection. For most members of Congress, that’s every waking hour! Fundraising trumps legislating and learning science and math.
Does the obscene amount of money being pledged to candidates poison the process in favor of the uber-wealthy?
That’s not rhetorical. Yes, it does.
No, money alone won’t swing elections. Just ask the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson or Karl Rove. And the uber-wealthy have just as much right to have their voices heard on the issues as the wretched poor. They do. But the overreliance on cash sure can poison the aftermath of an election when it comes to legislating and governing decisions.
This issue is heating up again in the courts, and could be the big story that no one notices. According to NBCNews.com:
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to delve into the controversial issue of money and politics -- again. This time, the court agreed to take up a challenge brought by an Alabama man who claims it's unconstitutional to prevent him from giving more than $46,200 to candidates and $70,800 to PAC's and political committees. The Alabama man doesn’t challenge the limit on contributions to an individual candidate, but he does claim it's unconstitutional to prevent him from contributing to as many candidates as he wishes.
You’ll never guess what political party has joined the Man from Alabama in his suit. The Republican National Committee is hoping that if contribution limits are lifted, the national party will be able to overwhelm the outside groups that they believe are hurting their establishment candidates.
A world without limits. Ponderous, man.
One party is poised to take the gloves off completely and deregulate campaign spending. The position has been that money is speech (and corporations are people, war is peace, ignorance is strength, freedom is slavery, etc.). The problem with the “money is speech” line of reasoning is simple. To paraphrase Orwell, money empowers some speech to be more equal than others. While the uber-wealthy and wretched poor have an equal right to speak, with unlimited cash, only one voice will be heard. Spoiler alert: it would not be the voice of the poor.
I don’t know what the correct balance should be between contributing to the candidate of your choice and buying a politician, but I do know that adding unlimited money to the process will not only diminish the governing authority of the winners, it will legitimize the direct buying and selling of votes.
Just as more guns will not make us safer, more money in electoral politics will not make us freer.
Campaign finance reform, however it is defined ultimately, will be imperfect, but the alternative is worse.