Where has America’s political integrity gone?
Sequestration, voting rights, DOMA and gun regulation may be hot topics on this week’s political schedule, but the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday to hear McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission comes as another possible landmark in campaign finance reform. Above all, it is a check on the United States’ adherence to preserving the integrity of our Constitution.
Plaintiff Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman and conservative activist, and the Republican National Committee are challenging the constitutionality of Federal Election Commission’s regulations capping individual donors at a maximum amount to more than just one candidate over a two-year election cycle.
If the suit is accepted, an aggregate limit of around $123,000 per person, per two-year election cycle would be absolutely obliterated. This would open the door for officeholders and political candidates to solicit obscene amounts of money — potentially upwards of $2 million.
Campaign finance has a long, intricate history within our legal system, which demonstrates the significance of this case.
Buckley v. Valeo, in 1976, found limiting corporate expenditures was not compelling duty of the government as the regulation of the expenditures undermined the value to the candidate and this, in and of itself, “allievat[ed] the danger that expenditures will be given as a quid pro quo for improper commitments.”
Citizens United v. FEC, in 2010, fortified this, reasoning by claiming the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent donations from corporations. A corporation has been recognized as a person since Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, in 1819, and this case was no different.
An even older Supreme Court precedent has been its take on defeating political corruption. With all due respect to Buckley v. Valeo, the Court decided years ago that government has the power to and will limit donations if the issue of political corruption is altogether evident in federal politics.
But have we come to a point where intervention is necessary?
While Buckley v. Valeo can be attributed to today’s system of no limits and possibly the greatest political scandal in U.S. history — Watergate — a post-Citizens United political world is certainly ripe with corruption via the super PAC phenomena.
Grassroots elections at the federal level have been a thing of the past for years, but the 2012 presidential elections demonstrated how “inflated” our vote has truly become.
Former aides to each candidate ran Obama’s “Priorities USA” and Romney’s “Restore Our Future,” while the same consultants and media placement firms were used in their respective campaigns.
Super PACs may not have won every election in 2012, but they certainly set the financial bar in U.S. political campaigns at the federal level much higher. This freshman class of both Democrats and Republicans are indebted to these donors for the entirety of their terms in office, not to you — the ones who voted for them.
McCutcheon made it the U.S. Supreme Court after it was ruled against in the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. in September.
The majority opinion written by libertarian-minded Janice Rogers Brown, claimed that solicitation of and benefit from such large contributions “will [show] precisely where to lay the wreath of gratitude.”
If SCOTUS sides with McCutcheon and the RNC, it would be first time in history that the Court has declared direct contribution limit unconstitutional. “Wreaths of gratitude” will be hung on doors of elites across the nation, replacing the integrity that once hung on every American’s door.
Here are the numbers: A report from Demos and USPIRG found that candidates for both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate in the 2012 elections raised the majority of their funds from donors giving $1,000 or more. Forty percent of all contributions to the U.S Senate candidates and 32.5 percent to U.S. House candidates came from donors giving the maximum $2,500 contribution limit; those donors amounted to just 0.02 percent of the U.S. population — just 0.02 percent.
Whoever makes the argument that money is not a vote in today’s politics is patently wrong. It’s irresponsible, it’s outrageous and it’s unconstitutional.
I have never been an Occupy supporter and never will be, because I think there is an underlying integrity lapse on both ends of the spectrum. Not all folks who work in the banking industry are corrupt, just as not all Americans benefiting from welfare in our nation are attempting to freeload.
Simply put, our Founding Fathers would not have wanted a narrow political class of the U.S. population swindling the votes of Americans. One may argue that the power of voting overrides campaign contributions and that every American has the choice to use their own rationale to make a reasonable, educated decision.
Unfortunately, money talks. And when money talks, money always wins.
Logan Nee is third-year economics and political science student