Money In Politics

Nicholas Johnson

As geriatric socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) once said of money’s impact on the electoral process, “A few wealthy individuals and corporations have bought up our private sector and now they’re buying up the government. Campaign finance reform is the most important issue facing us today, because it impacts all the others.”

The issue of Campaign finance reform is especially poignant for Sanders; he lost the Democratic nomination for President of the United States due to an inability to raise funds, given his opposition to the PAC and super PAC donation system.

Wait… Well, he actually raised more money than any other primary candidate, from either side of the political aisle. In fact, Sanders ran a relatively contentious race against a well-established political insider, narrowly missing victory despite being a harrowing example of folk music’s capacity to atrophy the human brain. Oh, and his opposition sort of cheated (Thanks, WikiLeaks.)

Alright, so that particular example doesn’t exactly prove how deeply broken the U.S. campaign finance system truly is. But just look at the Republican party; who could forget the roaring success of former Florida governor and sad puppy Jeb Bush? He was privy to immense financial support, having been the favorite in many of the early pre-Iowa polls. By some counts, Bushspent over five thousand dollars per vote, earned during his “Nice Try!” scratch-and-sniff-sticker-worthy campaign.

Fine, that example doesn’t work either.

The definitive case for Campaign finance reform was illustrated during the general election, wherein corporate cog Hillary Clinton utterly demolished her opposition, the relatively unknown Donald J. Trump, utilizing over two billion dollars in contributions: double that of Mr. Trump.

Oh… Right.

Purveyors of the myth that campaign finance is the single greatest political issue of the time have to look no further than the 2016 Presidential election to see the error of their thinking. Not one of the candidates backed by large contributions wound up victorious. Additionally, one of the most prominent advocates for Campaign finance reform, Bernie Sanders, was the single greatest fundraiser, receiving innumerable small donations from supporters around the country. Money obviously plays a role in the political process, but many ignore one essential fact: If a candidate doesn’t get enough votes, he or she cannot cannot win.

Aside from this oft-overlooked concept, there are other important factors which must be taken into account when discussing campaign finance reform.

First and foremost, restricting an individual’s ability to contribute is a violation of their First Amendment right to free expression. This was solidified with the contentious 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, wherein the conservative non-profit Citizens United challenged the legitimacy of federal electoral restrictions which barred them from airing the critical exposition Hillary: The Movie. Though the decision was a disheartening 5-4, the case marked an incredible victory for free speech, declaring that individuals do not sacrifice this basic Constitutional guarantee when they form corporations or unions.

Money, for all intents and purposes, is speech. The ability to put the fruits of one’s labor towards the advancement of a particular agenda is as fundamental to free expression as the right to protest.

To continue, most advocates of campaign finance reform are simply putting the cart before the horse. Money is undeniably an important tool in the political process, and its corrupting influence occasionally rears its ugly head. Nevertheless, the allure of money is nothing compared to that of power, here meaning the ability to advance one’s political agenda. A committed environmentalist, for example, would not suddenly take up bathing wild animals in crude oil due to a fat check from BP. Furthermore, an advocate for gun rights wouldn’t sacrifice their principles regarding the Second Amendment in exchange for a couple of bucks from the Brady Campaign. People ultimately want to do what is right. Even when their convictions lack any semblance of righteousness, the sense of purpose associated with advancing an agenda is far more lucrative than any financial contribution.

Perhaps it would be beneficial in some ways to reel back political spending. However, many have a vested interest in maintaining the current system, as government today is a growth industry. Businesses around the country see opportunity to expand through the exploitation of the U.S.’ semi-corporatist system, and employ massive teams of lobbyists and legal experts to ensure just that. The average voter, though they have a theoretically equal voice to the richest of their countrymen, will always be overshadowed in electoral process. Ultimately, big government means big money.