Should campaign finance laws and regulations be made more stringent?

In the proceedings of the Democratic primary in 2015, when discussing the issue of income inequality, candidate Bernie Sanders called America an “oligarchy”, because of the undue influence that a small group of wealthy donors have over electoral and policy outcomes in our country. In a proper republic, the representatives chosen by the people are supposed to go to Washington to represent their constituency, but due to the presence of money in politics, our representatives do the bidding of the special interest groups who give money to their campaigns and party coffers. Many people, including Bernie, blame a court case called Citizens United v. FEC  for this hijacking of our democracy, but the problems started much earlier in the 1970s, Citizens United simply destroyed the flood gates, what small ones that existed. The government, namely congress, needs to pass the American Anti-Corruption Act, which is a piece of legislation that was constructed by a group of constitutional law professors, which tries to reduce the influence of money in politics by stopping political bribery, ending dark money in campaigns, and many other provision that aid in strengthening campaign finance rules. But, to completely solve the broken campaign finance system, we must pass a constitutional amendment outlawing private money in elections and creating a citizen funded or a government funded election system so we can eliminate the mutually beneficial dependency that exists between wealthy private industry and politicians.

Money in politics has turned America into an oligarchy; the evidence

A study done by professors Gilens and Page from Princeton and North Western University, examined the extent to which the American political system responds to the will of the American people compared to the will of interest groups that represent corporations and wealthy private interests. The researchers used four theoretical forces of influence to measure the democracy level of America, these were: Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, Economic-Elite Domination, Majoritarian Pluralism, and Biased Pluralism. After their analysis of 1779 policy issues, from 1979 to 2002, they concluded that the needs of the people at the 90th percentile of income and their allied lobbyists were satisfied by lawmakers over 90% of the time, and the will of the average American and of, “mass-based interest groups” had a, “near zero, statistically nonsignificant impact upon public policy” (Gilens & Page, 2014). Contrary to what most people believe, the path to oligarchy did not start or end with Citizens United. The Citizens United v. FEC (2010) SCOTUS decision simply allowed Political Action Committees to contribute large sums of dark money to political campaigns with very little supervision. The origins of money in politics started in the 1970s. There are four court cases that are most responsible for making existing campaign finance laws obsolete and corrupting our political system. They are as follows: Buckley v. Valeo (1976): held, “that spending money to influence elections is a form of constitutionally protected free speech”, even when corporations do it (AmendmentGazzette, 2017), First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (1978): ruled corporations are equivalent to human beings and they have the constitutional right to engage in public discourse by way of spending money, Citizens United v. FEC (2010): held that, “freedom of speech prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by a nonprofit corporation”(Cillizza, 2014). This decision allowed corporations, SuperPACs, and other private entities to contribute large amounts of money into electoral campaigns, and finally, McCutcheon et al v. FEC (2014): this ruling, “struck down the aggregate limits on the amount an individual may contribute during a two-year period to all federal candidates, parties, and political action committees combined”(fec.gov, 2014),  enabling unfathomable amounts of private funds to flood into public campaigns, and rendering useless the campaign finance reforms of the last 200 years.

How money in politics has lead to neoFuedalism in America

Feudalism is marked by an immense gap in power and wealth, as it manifested itself in medieval Europe there are essentially two classes of people, the ruling class, which consists of the king, clergy, and the nobles who own all the land and resources, and the working class, which consists of peasants who work for the ruling class while getting very little in return for their hard work. The distinction between then and now is that the divisions are not codified into law and the peasants are promised a fantasy that they too can be rich and powerful, if they just work hard enough. It is a much more insidious design because back in medieval times, people knew where they stood, now they use hope as a weapon to keep the masses distracted. A study done by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, about the share of income growth going to three different income brackets in the western industrialized nations from 1975 to 2007, found that the U.S came in last in income equality. Denmark came in at number one with 90% of the economic gains going to the bottom 90% of the population, while only 2% of the gains went to the top 1%. On the other hand, in the U.S over 47% of the income gains went to the top 1%, 35% of the income went to the top 10%, and the bottom 90% of Americans only gained about 18% of the income (Strachan, 2014). This is during a time that Americans were working harder than ever and producing more and more products with increasingly efficient technology. According to a study done by the Economic Policy Institute, productivity and hourly compensation have diverged from each other from 1973 to 2015. Net productivity rose in this interval by 73.4 % while hourly compensation stayed at a measly 11.1%, which means, “that although Americans are working more productively than ever, the fruits of their labors have primarily accrued to those at the top and to corporate profits, especially in recent years” (Bivens & Mishel, 2015). It is not a coincidence that the pay gap started to widen right after the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people and they are allowed to spend money to influence public elections. The two are most definitely connected and after Citizens United, things got significantly worse for the working class.

Restrict special interest power over elections by passing stricter anti-corruption laws.

There are several policy proposals that want to mobilize enough public support to pass a bill that would restrict the influence of special interest groups in Washington. The foremost among these proposals is the American Anti-Corruption Act (AACA). Which addresses several urgent problems in our current campaign finance system. According to their website, they have a plan to fix the system, the first priority being, “stop political bribery”. They want to stop bribery by making it illegal for politicians to take money from lobbyists. This act would prevent registered lobbyists from donating to politicians. This is a serious issue because lobbyists don’t just speak on behalf of some group, but they do financial favors for politicians and their aides to win their favor so that at a later time they can influence the content of the bills those lawmakers might proposing. This is a well-documented phenomena that was illuminated by people like Jack Abramoff (Schmidt, 2005), a defunct lobbyist who went to jail for bribery of congress, and now supports fixing our broken campaign finance system. Another provision of the AACA to end bribery is to stop lobbyist bundling, which is a process by which lobbyists combine the money they get from their biggest donors into huge lump sums that they then donate to politicians; this makes politicians want to please lobbyists to make sure that they keep funding their reelection campaigns. Lastly on bribery, the AACA prevents lawmakers from fundraising during work hours. It is a fact that is attested to by most politicians that they have to “dial for dollars” to make it in Washington (Crowley M., 2016). It has become an expected routine for politicians now. This is a problem because it prevents them from actually legislating, and passes the job onto their aides or interns. Politicians don’t even know the fine details of the bills they vote on due to this preoccupation with fundraising. It also narrows the legislative perspective of politicians. If the people you talk to everyday are wealthy donors who can donate big money to your campaigns, then you start to see their interests as your own, and sometimes unconsciously, you will pass laws that benefit your donor constituents, instead of the public at large.

The Final Solution: Pass a Constitutional Amendment to get money out of politics.

Although the AACA is a good start to fix the symptoms of money in politics, it does not eliminate the source of the corruption, which can only be done by outlawing the baseless and offensive ideas that corporations are equivalent to human beings and therefore are entitled to the same constitutional rights as people, and that money is equivalent to speech. The best way to eliminate the corrupting influence of money in political campaigns is to pass a constitutional amendment, which states that corporations are not people, money is not speech, and that all public election shall be funded by the government with a prohibition on private donations. The most successful group attempting to get the money out is WOLFPAC. WOLFPAC was founded by Cenk Uygur, the host of TYT, in 2011. WOLFPAC’s “Free and Fair elections Amendment” correctly diagnoses the problem and has a clear path to a solution. In order to pass a constitutional amendment, we must first convene a constitutional convention, which we are allowed to do through Article V of the U.S constitution. The path to a convention is a long and hard one, but it is one that can be done given the enormous public support for ending the undue influence of lobbyist and the mega-rich on elections among the American people. A poll conducted by Public Citizen in 2014 found that 61% solidly opposed Citizens United, the same poll found that 78% of Americans believed that reducing the influence of money in politics was very important to them. Furthermore, they found that 60% of Americans want a complete overhaul of the current campaign finance system. Lastly 62% of American believe that, “the current election system allows the voices of a few to drown out the many using million-dollar microphones” (Public Citizen, 2014). A New York Times/ CBS News poll found that 66% of Americans believe that the wealthy have more influence over our politicians than average Americans. The same poll found that 80% of Americans believe that money has too much influence over politics. And finally, 55% believe that politicians who win due to money in politics carry out the agendas of their donors “most of the time”, as opposed to the agenda of the public at large (NY Times, 2015). These numbers are similar or greater in every reputable scientific poll conducted on the subject. It’s a public consensus at this point that wealthy donors have more influence over our political lives than average Americans.

This growing public discontent toward money in politics is also reflected in the success that WOLFPAC has had in five states so far, in just 6 years after its creation in 2011. They have hundreds of volunteers in every state showing up to their politicians and lobbying them to propose a bill to end money in politics. In order to actually convene a convention, WOFPAC must get 34 of the 50 states to call for a convention, and get 38 of the 50 states to pass the, “Free and Fair Elections Amendment”. Congress has passed 27 amendments to the constitution. About half of those were called for by way of Article V Conventions. No conventions actually took place, because the threat of a convention was enough to scare congress into action. It is the hope of WolfPac to provoke a similar fear response in congress and force them to act on this issue to restore our democracy.

In closing, some of our founding fathers, like Thomas Jefferson, feared the, “monopolizing of economic power by banks and corporations”, and, “the selfish spirit of commerce (that) knows no country, and feels no passion or principle but that of gain” (Nichols, J. 2010). Due to the actions of SCOTUS and the inaction and deep corruption of congress, from the 1970s on, the “aristocracy of corporations” that Jefferson feared has come to pass. Due to the prevalence of money in politics, those that have the most money have the most influence over politicians. The exercise of that influence has crushed the economic security of the average American to a point where (according to an analysis by The Economic Policy Institute) people working full time jobs have to go on Food Stamps just to survive (Cooper, 2016). It is crucial that we pass the Free and Fair Elections Amendment and return our republic to its intended democratic roots, freeing it of the chains of corruption that bind it.

References

  1. Bivens, Josh; Mishel, Lawreance (2015). Understanding the Historic Divergence Between Productivity and a Typical Worker’s Pay; Why It Matters and Why It’s Real. Economic Policy Institute. http://www.epi.org/publication/understanding-the-historic-divergence-between-productivity-and-a-typical-workers-pay-why-it-matters-and-why-its-real/
  2. Cilliza, Chris (2014). How Citizens United changed politics, in 7 charts. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2014/01/21/how-citizens-united-changed-politics-in-6-charts/
  3. Cooper, David (2016). A majority of low-wage workers earn so little they must rely on public assistance to make ends meet. Economic Policy Institute. http://www.epi.org/publication/a-majority-of-low-wage-workers-earn-so-little-they-must-rely-on-public-assistance-to-make-ends-meet/
  4. Crowley, Michael (2016). Outrageous: Dialing for Dollars; how can your congressman serve you when he’s constantly hunting for campaign cash? Columbia Foundation. http://www.columbia.org/pdf_files/publiccampaign15.pdf
  5. Farnam, T.W (2013). Study shows revolving door of employment between Congress, lobbying firms. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/study-shows-revolving-door-of-employment-between-congress-lobbying-firms/2011/09/12/gIQAxPYROK_story.html?utm_term=. a405c1366397
  6. FEC (2014). McCutcheon, et al. v. FEC Case Summary. Federal Elections Commission. http://www.fec.gov/law/litigation/McCutcheon.shtml#ac
  7. Gilens, M. and Page, Benjamin I. (2014) Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens. Perspectives on Politics. Vol. 12/No. 3. https://scholar.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/mgilens/files/gilens_and_page_2014_-testing_theories_of_american_politics.doc.pdf
  8. Kamp, Karin (2014). Majority of Americans Want Money Out of Politics. Moyers &Company. http://billmoyers.com/2014/11/21/majority-americans-want-money-politics/
  9. NY Times (2015). Americans’ Views on Money in Politics. New York Time/ CBS NEWS. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/06/02/us/politics/money-in-politics-poll.html
  10. Us (2017). Fight Corruption in America: Stop Political Bribery, End Secret Money, & Fix Our Broken Elections. anticorruptionact.org. http://anticorruptionact.org/whats-in-the-act/
  11. Schmidt and Grimaldi (2005). The Fast Rise and Steep Fall of Jack Abramoff. Washington Post.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/28/AR2005122801588.html

  1. Strachan, Maxwell (2014). The U.S. Is Even More Unequal Than You Realized. Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/01/income-inequality-charts_n_5241586.html
  2. Tracy, Jan (2013). For freshman in Congress, focus is on raising money. Bostonglobe. https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2013/05/11/freshman-lawmakers-are-introduced-permanent-hunt-for-campaign-money/YQMMMoqCNxGKh2h0tOIF9H/story.html
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