The United States politics of our modern age are ridden with hidden and confusing rules that make little sense to most outsiders. I am finding that throughout our Government Politics and Citizenship course we are stumbling on many laws and regulations which can only have been conceived over decades by crazy politicians. One example of such confusion came with the replacement of Justice Antonin Scalia after he passed away last February. Obama nominated a slightly more moderate liberal, Merrick Garland, but found that the US Congress refused to even consider the nomination made by President Obama. Congress sites the fact that the next president should be the one to make the nomination because Obama is at the end of his term, when in fact Obama has around half a year left in office.
The campaign trail has many different rules, and a large portion of these focus on a large problem in the campaigns, financing/fundraising. Many of the nominees on both the Democratic and Republican sides of the aisle have denounced the contributions of big interest, the most prominent of these people being Bernie Sanders. On the home page of his campaign, Bernie says that “with a political campaign finance system that is corrupt and increasingly controlled by billionaires and special interests, I fear very much that, in fact, government of the people, by the people, and for the people is beginning to perish in the United States of America” (Sanders). I agree with Bernie, for how can a system so reliant on the donations of large corporations and the top economic elites supposed to reliably represent the interests of the masses?
You just have to look back as far as the winner of the 2012 presidential election to see how important it is to win the support of those with money. In order to raise the $737 million, Obama had to develop a broad base of support and fundraise extensively among contributors with influence and money. In his 2008 campaign, Obama received support from the celebrities Oprah Winfrey, George Clooney, Robert DeNiro, Chris Rock, and Scarlett Johansson (Polsby). According to a ProQuest article, “since 1980, 13 of the 14 presidential nominees- in both parties- were those who raised the most money a year before the first nominating event” (Tolbert). So the obvious importance of campaign finance, and the possibility for disconnect between voters and elections because of special interests, it raises the question what type of laws are there that created this fundraising system?
In 2010, the United States Supreme Court made a landmark decision in the case Citizens United versus FEC. The Federal Election Committee (FEC) is an organization designed to enforce campaign regulation laws, and Citizens United is a political organization. Previously, organizations know as a 501(c)4, which is a tax exempt organization, was limited in the ways they could donate and be involved in politics. But after the Citizens United Supreme Court case, they are allowed to “spend money from their general treasuries on political campaigns — so long as they don’t coordinate directly with the candidates they are backing” (Center For Revolving Politics). I find the fact that this section of the decision was passed and is still intact in our democratic government confusing. If money can practically buy an election, then what is the point of sending voters to the polls? The prospect of having dark and mysterious elect the politicians who make the decisions that will dramatically affect all of our lives is frightening, no matter what side of the political spectrum the money is going to support.
Fundamentally, our government is designed to represent the people, so it is surprising to me that a direct issue regarding this principle still exists over two decades after the founding of the United States. There is some regulations put on campaigns, for instance in 1971, a law was passed by the 92nd congress called the Federal Election Campaign Act which was designed to increase transparency of the contributions made to campaigns; A few years later, in 1974, the Federal Election Committee was established. But these restrictions are themselves restricted by the Citizens United decision, as “the United States Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by a nonprofit corporation” (Wikipedia). Effectively, the US has made the regulations that it needs in order to make a democratic system, and then has decided to confiscate those principles on little to no foundation. The Citizens United decision seems to imply that corporations are people, and that money is speech, therefore corporations have the freedoms of their money.
To end on a note that I think is a more befitting campaign for a country devout to democracy, in contrast with big money politics, “campaigning in small-state environments, such as Iowa or New Hampshire, fosters grassroots or retail politics; candidates learn how to respond to voters and what issues drive voters” (Tolbert). I think that that is the entire point of a political campaign; Not to test the candidate’s fundraising abilities, or their public image, but their ability to represent the voters and their beliefs.
The Center For Revolving Politics. “Outside Spending: Frequently Asked Questions About 501(c)(4) Groups.” OpenSecrets.org. Accessed May 4, 2016. http://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/faq.php.
Sanders, Bernie. “Getting Big Money Out of Politics and Restoring Democracy.” Bernie 2016. Accessed May 3, 2016. https://berniesanders.com/issues/money-in-politics/.
Polsby, Nelson, Aaron Wildavsky, Steven Schier, and David Hopkins. Presidential Elections : Strategies and Structures of American Politics. Thirteenth ed. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2011.
Tolbert, Caroline. “Reforming the Presidential Nomination Process.” Political Science and Politics 42, no. 1 (January 9, 2009): 27-32.
Wikipedia. “Citizens United v. FEC.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Last modified May 3, 2016. Accessed May 4, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_United_v._FEC.