Surprise! Not everyone has heard of the Citizens United 2010 Supreme Court decision. Research from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 54% of registered voters say they have heard about the decision that allows corporations and individuals to spend as much money as they want on political advertising as long as it is not coordinated with candidate campaigns.
Of those who are aware of the new rules on independent expenditures, 65% say they are having a negative effect on the 2012 presidential campaign. People who are aware do see what an impact recent campaign finance rules are having on the election process.
Despite all of the noise in the news about citizens’ beliefs in each political party about this topic, there is no substantial partisan divide in awareness and opinions of the new campaign spending rules. About half of Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike have heard about the court decision. Among those who have heard about it, a majority in each group say it is having a negative effect on the campaign this year.
One way of dealing with wealthy donors influencing the political process is to finance all elections with public funds. The Fair Elections Now Act would establish a small donor public financing system for congressional elections. Offering a voluntary campaign finance system can reduce the influence of big donors over elections and levels the playing field between incumbents and challengers.
The American voters overwhelmingly supported Fair Elections by a 40-point margin (63 percent supporting, 23 percent opposed) in a survey in 2010. This suggests widespread support for campaign finance reform and for the idea that only when the public pays the campaign bills will the politicians be accountable solely to the public.
A great summary of the benefits of clean elections is:
• Makes candidates and elected officials accountable only to the public interest, rather than powerful special interests
• Saves taxpayer dollars by reducing inappropriate giveaways to campaign contributors
• Makes elections fair by leveling the playing field for candidates
• Allows politicians to spend less time fundraising, so they can spend more time addressing national priorities
• Gives all citizens, regardless of wealth, a fair shot to be heard and participate in every step of the democratic process
• Reinvigorates our democracy by helping to reengage voters and increasing voter turnout
Although this issue is not a partisan one, it is an insider vs. outsider one. Therein lies the difficulty in implementation. Pitting the public interest against the moneyed interests of powerful groups who currently have a system that works in their favor is the crux of this problem. A grassroots movement pressuring existing legislators to address the aforementioned problems is the most likely means of implementation. Current elected officials are beholden to the special interests that contributed to their election, and officials will never betray those interests for the sake of the public interest – in our current system, this would be political suicide. Instead, pressure from the American people, when powerful enough, can essentially force legislators to make these changes. With determination and coordination, the American people can influence their officials to implement democratic principles into the electoral process.
Is this a perfect solution? No. Will there be unintended consequences? Absolutely, Yes. If we want to fix the problem though, we can’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Our current campaign finance laws have historically proven to be a breeding ground for corruption and the attempts at disclosure and transparency have been futile. We need to start with a basic foundation that provides the necessary guidelines to prevent corruption. Unintended consequences can be addressed as need be with small amendments to this framework.
Remember, the Founders knew that the Constitution wasn’t perfect and would undoubtedly need to be amended in the future. They knew that they couldn’t possibly foresee societal changes that may take place at some point in the future, so they included the ability to change the Constitution as necessary through Article V. Striving for perfection is only delaying any improvement at all on the influence of money on our elected officials.
Campaign Finance Reform has to be the cornerstone of our attempts to fix our Government and to set our country on the right course. If we don’t fix the primary motivations of our elected officials, how can we possibly expect that they will take the necessary steps to fix any of our other problems?