MONEY IN POLITICS

Campaign finance today defines the culture of corruption engendered by big money's control over our elected representatives.


Clean Elections Are An Essential Part of Democratic Reform

While the NEDC does not currently work directly on Campaign Finance issues, we strongly support the effort of other organizations and voters to educate and mobilize for systemic reform.

We know that the urgent need to raise money means politicians must compromise their values constantly, so as not to offend the large donors who are quite often the industries they effect through legislation.

Many move on to become lobbyists for the very industries that they regulated.

The solutions to this problem remain public financing of elections, and legislation limiting campaign contributions to candidates and political parties. 

However, the movement for Clean Elections and Campaign Finance Reform (CFR) has been consistently derailed by partisan and activist Supreme Court decisions.

NEDC co-founder, former Vermont State Senator Ben Ptashnik, was the sponsor of one of the first Clean Election Acts to be put forth in any state. 

The Supreme Court struck down the Vermont Clean Elections Act in 2006, just after Chief Justice Roberts was appointed by George W. Bush, who had stolen the presidency through flagrant election rigging.


A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.
— Supreme Court Justice Paul Stevens


The NEW GILDED AGE

The Gilded Age at the end of the 19th century featured flagrant robber baron manipulation of the political process. The era was marked by the influence-peddling corruption of political campaign contributions. 

Public outrage ushered in a period of reforms during the Theodore Roosevelt administration, which, along with anti-trust legislation, attempted to limit monopolies and corporate manipulation of elections. 

In the 1970s, after the Watergate scandals exposed new corruptions in campaign financing, earlier reforms were amplified by new limitations on campaign contributions, and the advent of public financing of elections. 

However, a series of radical Supreme Court decisions undermined campaign finance reform efforts. 

We have entered a new Gilded Age of the 21st Century. Over the past 30 years, robber barons have resurfaced with a vengeance, and 60 percent of all wealth has been funneled to the top 1 percent of the population. 

Once again, big money's control over our elected representatives defines the culture of corruption spreading through Washington. 

 

Radical Supreme Court Decisions

Since the 1970s a number of new Supreme Court decisions struck down many CFR laws, and limited aspects of Clean Elections public financing.

BUCKLEY v. VALEO
In 1976 campaign reform was set back by the Supreme Court in the controversial Buckley v. Valeo decision, declaring money donated to or expended in political campaigns is a form of free speech. The decision therefore limited some forms of CFR as a violation of First Amendment rights. 
 

CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION
The landmark January 21, 2010, Supreme Court ruling, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, upheld the status of corporations as persons. The right-wing Roberts Court favored the strongly conservative pro-business lobbying group Citizens United.

The ruling asserts that the First Amendment protecting free speech also prohibits the government from restricting political independent expenditures by corporations, associations, or labor unions—calling such restrictions "censorship." 
 

Super PACs

The corporate personhood decision is widely seen to have opened the floodgates of unlimited toxic influence by powerful interests over American politics through campaign funding.

It proliferated the development of Super PACS: independent political committees that support a candidate with unlimited, often anonymous, donations from companies, unions, or individuals. 

Super PACs can't contribute directly to a candidate, but they can run favorable ads about a candidate—or negative ones about their opponent. The people running the PACs are typically closely connected to the candidate the PAC supports. 


State & National Strategies to Close the Floodgates

We must restore democracy by removing in every way possible the influence and corruption of money in politics.

Coalitions of democracy organizations should take the following actions:

  • Educate and lobby for public campaign financing legislation
  • Challenge candidates in coming election campaigns to take positions on campaign finance reform
  • Propose state campaign finance reform legislation, and share legislation initiatives between the various states
  • Promote and organize state by state coalitions to form a mass movement

 

Constitutional Amendment & PUBLIC FINANCING OF ELECTIONS

A constitutional amendment to eliminate corporate personhood requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the States. 

Public financing of elections and campaign finance reform legislation should be utilized as political objectives in the short term. Though Buckley v. Valeo and Citizens United limit some reforms, others are still constitutionally viable. 

The Supreme Court has ruled that spending limits are constitutional only if they are optional. 

Several states have optional spending limits, enticing candidates into abiding by these limits by offering state funds for their campaign in return. Some form of legislation has been adopted by legislatures—or by ballot initiative—in Maine, Arizona, North Carolina, New Mexico, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts. 

A few of these laws have been reversed by local legislatures, but a majority were struck down by the current U.S. Supreme Court; see Randall v. Sorrell. Vermont's Clean Elections Law which was struck down in 2006, has been revised to reflect the Court's decision, and was signed into law in January of 2014.  

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, twenty-five states have programs that provide public funds for use in election campaigns, in three broad categories:

  • those which provide funds directly to individual candidates
  • those that provide funds to political parties
  • those which provide tax incentive to citizens who make political contributions  

Many states operate programs which combine more than one of these categories.