There's an old saying that "money makes the world go 'round". While this certainly seems
like it was coined by a Republican (LOL), money is certainly the grease that lubricates the cogs of the economy. It is also a large factor in determining who can and does run for public office, as well as who eventually wins (and then keeps their) seats in government. There have been numerous attempts to reign in spending via legislative action, but - as expected - the monied continuously fight these in court lest they lose their influence.
They got their biggest victory in January 2010 with the Supreme Court verdict in Citizens United
. In that case, they nullified campaign finance laws, ruling them unconstitutional, and paved the way for Super PACs. The majority opinion was that money equaled free speech. It's hard to imagine that the founding fathers considered money as speech when they were framing the Constitution.
The main problem with this argument of course is that it tosses the idea of "one man, one voice" on its head. Those with huge sums of money at their disposal are able to shout with tremendously amplified voices across the great spanse of our continent, while most people can only whisper. It creates a huge inequality in speech that the legislation had attempted to balance (not to mention removing corrupting influences).
Where before every campaign had a PAC tied to it for raising funds and advocacy, a new beast arose from this court decision: the Super PAC
. Super PACs are - by law (or more accurately the SCOTUS decision) - separate entities from the campaigns, unable to legally work directly with them. They are, however, able to hide their donors and able to create any ads they want to. They can spew lies, slander, smear, and create unending videos with ominous voices intoning warnings over grainy footage, and the campaigns can maintain plausible deniability.
That genie is out of the bag, and there's little that can realistically be done to tamp that back down. There are still laws in place regarding "traditional" campaign funding, though, and those can be reinforced and enforced more vigorously. Consider disgraced former Senator (and presidential candidate) John Edwards who is going on trial in a few weeks for supposedly using campaign funds for non-campaign purposes
. What exactly constitutes "valid campaign expenses" seems to be one of those gray areas. Campaigns regularly pay themselves, family members, and friends for expenses that seem only tangentially related to the campaign. Perennial candidate Ron Paul is one of the worst
(CREW has a complete report
). The US Senate is trying to at least give people more information with the DISCLOSE Act. It failed last session by one vote. They have stripped out some of the more contentious parts, and are poised to try again
But back to the original premise: Funding tends to be one of the main reasons candidates drop out of races. If they have a poor showing in an early primary, their funds dry up and they are forced to withdraw. We've seen it happen numerous times this season, and it may be Newt Gingrich next, as his campaign goes into debt
. While it stands to reason that electibility is somewhat related to how much money a campaign can raise by inspiring supporters to "speak" with their wallets, a candidate having a supporter with a very loud "voice" can stay afloat longer than one with a lot more popular support from those with quieter "voices". Thus, the inequality.
The solution to this is to eliminate private funding of campaigns, and provide candidates with equitable funding from the government. This will level the playing field, allowing more candidates more time to connect with their supporters. It would also force candidates to be smart and careful about how they spent their campaign funds.
Enacting this at the federal level is like turning around a cargo ship on the ocean - it is slow going. Some states have attempted to move in this direction ahead of a federal charter. One of those - Arizona (of all states) - passed a public campaign finance law to address the imbalance. Part of the law was struck down
by the Supreme Court last year, but other parts remained in place. A challenge to those remainders has been tossed
by a state judge, which is temporary good news.
The only real solution to get around the constitutionality issue is to amend the Constitution. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) is proposing a joint resolution
to do just that. It essentially will give the Congress power to enact laws governing campaign financing. This is not the same as a constitutional amendment to define personhood or what constitutes free speech, nor to define that campaigns can only be funded via the government. It simply states that the US Congress and the States have the ability to regulate campaign finances for their respective election domains. Yes, this means that campaign finance laws could change over time, but at least they could not be discarded as unconstitutional by the courts.
And that is a step in the right direction to returning to one man, one voice.