For The Duncan Banner
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that federal campaign laws that limit the total amount of money donors can give to political parties, committees and candidates for federal office (U.S. House, Senate, and President) was unconstitutional. The ruling will not increase the current $2,600 limit on how much a donor can give to a federal candidate in each primary and general election or the $32,400 limit that can go to a national party committee. Those limits are still in place. The ruling will instead remove the limit on how many candidates/committees to which a donor can contribute.
“The government has a strong interest, no less critical to our democratic system, in combating corruption and its appearance,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “We have, however, held that this interest must be limited to a specific kind of corruption — quid pro quo corruption — in order to ensure that the government's efforts do not have the effect of restricting the First Amendment right of citizens to choose who shall govern them.”
Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the minority, said the decision “understates the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institutions. Today's decision eviscerates our nation's campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”
The suit, McCutcheon vs. FEC, was supported by the RNC and the ruling was applauded by Chairman Reince Priebus. “Today's Court decision in McCutcheon v FEC is an important first step toward restoring the voice of candidates and party committees and a vindication for all those who support robust, transparent political discourse,” Priebus said.
Critics like Ruth Marcus, an op/ed writer for The Washington Post said, “The risk posed by the ruling is not as much its immediate impact but the implications of its reasoning in demolishing an already rickety campaign finance structure.”
Three observations concerning the ruling:
First, the Supreme Court got it right. The First Amendment trumps federal campaign laws. Americans have a constitutional right to participate in the political process at whatever level they want — whether it be volunteering for a candidate or contributing money to their campaign. It’s called free speech and every American should applaud the ruling. It protects our liberty and freedom.
Second, it is indisputable that money rules in the political process. The 2012 presidential campaigns of Obama and Romney spent a combined $2 billion. Just 20 years ago, Bill Clinton ran his successful 1992 campaign on $3 million. It’s not just running for president that costs so much. According to the FEC, on average a U.S. House race now cost $1.7 million to win, a U.S. Senate seat $10.5 million. Candidates at all levels now must raise large sums of money to “get their message” to voters. State legislative and county candidates must solicit donors for money in order to be competitive in the political arena. This ruling will likely increase the amount of money in the political process. Which brings me to point three..
Third, big donors and political consultants are not to blame for money in politics. A common misconception is if big donors and political operatives were taken out of the process, big money in politics would dry up. That is simply not true. The reason we have so much money in politics is because we have an “unengaged & ignorant electorate.” The average voter is not paying attention. If voters paid attention to what is going in their government all the time and not just the 90 days before an election, the “messaging” (TV/slick mail pieces) by candidates wouldn’t be nearly as effective. Currently most people vote based on a candidate’s “likeability” and not on substance. Ignorant voters believe candidate propaganda and whichever candidate in a race that is the most effective at “marketing their message” wins. A candidate’s track record, character, values, or stance on the issues has become secondary to image.
So how is the amount of money in the American political process reduced? First, citizens need to pay attention — all the time. Question your elected officials, research candidates for office and issues. Don’t just swallow a candidate’s “messaging” propaganda without researching the facts. Stay engaged in your government — at all levels — 24/7/365. Second, hold elected officials and our government accountable. Trust, but verify. Once elected, watch what they do and not what they say.
America is a country founded on the principle of self governance. If we have poor government, it’s our fault. If we have too much money in politics, it’s our fault. It’s time Americans took responsibility for the mess we call our government and quit blaming the system.
Steve Fair 580-252-6284