Campaign finance reform is urgently needed
Published: Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 00:09
In the upcoming months, you’re going to see a lot of advertising for political candidates. Even if you avoid watching television, browsing the Internet or reading the newspaper, you’ll still be bombarded by campaign signs everywhere on lawns and billboards.
It’s unavoidable. So where does all the money for these campaign advertisements come from? To quote the critically acclaimed television show "The Wire", "You start to follow the money, and you don’t know where it’s gonna take you."
In 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of Citizens United, a conservative advocacy group, in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Citizens United argued that money was a form of speech, and thus was protected under the First Amendment. The ruling basically eliminated the limitations on campaign donations and made any attempt at regulating donations a farce.
Soon after, the money started to flood in at an unprecedented rate. The creation of Super PACs (political action committees) has allowed individuals to give as much money as they want, whereas before they were limited, at least in theory, by existing campaign finance reform law. According to Public Citizen, a non-profit government watchdog group based in Washington, D.C, campaign spending for the 2010 midterm elections jumped from $68.9 million in 2006 to a staggering $294.2 million, a year after the Citizens United decision. Even more disturbing was the increase in donations that exceeded former campaign finance law restrictions, accounting for three-fourths of the donations gathered in 2010. Unsurprisingly, most of the donations so far have come from super-rich oil barons, bankers and other industry tycoons to PACs.
Take for example Harold Simmons, who is estimated to be worth $10 billion. According to the Wall Street Journal, he has given more than $18 million to the conservative PAC American Crossroads, run by Karl Rove and created to "defeat Mr. Obama and elect majorities in both the House and the Senate that are 100% dedicated to rescuing our economy from the Obama agenda." Simmons’ money was also behind the Swift Boat ads that ran against Kerry in 2004 and the Bill Ayers attack ads that ran against Obama in 2008.
Why is Harold Simmons so eager to replace President Obama? Obama is hurting his business with regulations.
Simmons runs Contran Corp., a chemicals and metal conglomerate. Chemicals and metal production are heavily regulated industries. The consequences of under-regulated chemicals and metal production could be disastrous, from using cheaper alloys in metals that could cause malfunctions and breakages to less strenuous chemical disposal regulations that could result in spills that harm the environment and the quality of life of the people living in the area.
Before regulations on business were implemented in America, the quality of life for workers was awful. Safety regulations were nonexistent and led to the horrible maiming and deaths of many workers in factories and mines.
Say what you will about unions today, but they forced employers to pay livable wages to their members. The lack of stricter banking regulations led to the financial catastrophe all of us are living with today. Billionaires who complain about regulations impacting their bottom lines do not speak for the millions of people whose lives would be negatively affected by deregulation in the industries the donors represent.
Having all these billionaires, with eyes toward deregulation and the other perks that come with having political connections, buying these elections is undemocratic and needs to be regulated.
Finance reform with real teeth would be a start, but moving toward publicly financed campaigns through a constitutional amendment like those seen in England would be ideal. That way, the people running for office won’t be so beholden to the men writing million dollar checks and can instead focus on what’s best for the citizens who elect them.