Bernie and Big Money

Zachary Broner, JHU:

As conversations about the transparency of campaign finance and dirty political money continue to heat up along with the presidential election, San Diego attorney and businessman John Cox has come up with a (fashionable) solution. Cox’s initiative, set to be vote upon by California voters in the fall of 2016, would require California legislators to physically adorn the logos of their top campaign contributors. While coming straight out of left field, Cox’s frustration with the hypocrisy and corruption of today’s campaign finance system is felt heavily across the entire country. Imagine a world where the suits, ties, and blazers of Capitol Hill were replaced with a shitload of stickers!

Cox’s proposal is exciting to many Americans who want to see clarity and consistency in American politics. As the Center for Responsible Politics estimated $6 billion was spent by various political organizations and corporations during the 2012 presidential election, many Americans have become tired of the “for sale” status of the candidates, and of the election in general. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders continues to hone in on campaign finance as one of his key points attacking Hillary Clinton, and contending that she has been “bought” by Wall Street. However, Bernie Sanders has recently been exposed for taking large sums from corporations as well. It is easy to see the basis of Cox’s frustration. After taking such large sums of money from Wall Street, Mrs. Clinton is expected to pay these corporations back through pursuing lenient economic policy that favor the profit margins of these same corporations. In addition, campaign financing by ideologically polarized interest groups undoubtedly leads to ideologically polarized candidates. One can see this phenomenon on the right with issues such as religion (abortion, gay marriage, etc.) and gun rights, with conservatives being forced to take conservative stances on this issue to even stand a chance in the money game , and on the left, with Hillary Clinton being pushed to be a more progressive candidate to match the socialist appeal of Bernie Sanders.

Both candidates are heavily in favor of campaign finance reform, which starts with reviewing the supreme court decision Citizens United vs. FEC (2010). This clarified the first amendment to permit independent political expenditures by corporations or non-profit organizations. This decision has been credited with the establishment of Super PACs, which, despite being barred from any direct contact with a candidate, have unlimited spending and can raise unlimited funding. Super PACs have remained in the spotlight in this election, with Bernie Sanders famously claiming that he is not backed by any of these high-spending organizations. While it is true that Sanders does not possess the support of any Super PAC directly created to sponsor his campaign, several other groups have spent serious amounts of money promoting his election with TV and print advertising. While Sanders hates “big money” in politics, he really has no control, as Super PACs supporting him can be set up  by almost anyone, independently from the campaign.

This election has featured some of the weirdest politics in our nation’s history. As candidates continually jump around the ideological spectrum, Americans have become fed up. Donald Trump hasn’t voted in a republican primary since 1989 and has donated more money to democrats between 1989 and2011. How, then, has Donald Trump become the face of the wildly conservative right? Are politicians just saying whatever they want to appease both donors and voters? I contend that politicians say what they need to say as rational actors in the unyielding hunt for power.

In order to bring our politics back in order, it is necessary to promote real changes in campaign finance for elections. Without incredibly polarized interest groups, political organizations, and corporations spending inordinate amounts of money on campaigns, the result of the election can be affected by all citizens, regardless of wealth. While the Supreme Court thought that, by limiting coordination between donors and campaigns, corruption would be limited. Because Super PACs are not allowed to communicate with candidates, their fundraising and spending is unlimited. While direct contributions to a campaign are still thought to be corrupting and are limited by law, rules to hinder coordination between high-level Super PACs and candidates have been neutered. In a world where Super PACs are often directly established to endorse a particular campaign, Citizens United has failed to limit the corruption it set out to fight. Political equality has also been destroyed, as corporations and the wealthy dominate the voices of the election and discourage engagement by the ‘average Joe’ of society in elections. Democracy has been robbed of the common people as wealthy corporations can influence an election more than the citizen population of the nation.   By getting big money out of elections, candidates will be compelled to speak to all Americans, from the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich.



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