Unlimited corporate spending in our nation’s political campaigns has unfairly limited what say average people have in our elections’ outcomes. And sadly, it seems, not much can be done about it in the immediate future.
According to reporting from CNN, money from “outside groups” (that is, not the candidates themselves, nor the parties they belong to) has increased by more than 400 percent since the disastrous Citizens United ruling in 2010 by the U.S. Supreme Court. That ruling allowed for corporations to spend their own profits in unlimited ways toward promoting or disparaging political campaigns or causes.
In 2008, the presidential election before the ruling was issued, around $338 million was spent by outside organizations, typically nonprofit groups who were promoting a political cause and the like. After 2010, when the Supreme Court ruled that campaign laws restricting corporations from being involved were unconstitutional, spending ballooned, up to $1.4 billion in the 2016 election.
Found bill in Maryland!
Did you know there are over 140 organizations supporting an amendment to overturn Citizens United? You can find some listed in our FAQ: https://t.co/D4Qs7ZPKDb pic.twitter.com/iWoFfJvYNE
— Stamp Stampede (@StampStampede) May 2, 2019
Corporations are allowed to spend unlimited sums of their own profits to promote whatever causes they want in a political campaign. Ordinary citizens, meanwhile, can only spend $2,800 of their own income toward a political candidate they support, according to the FEC website.
Of course, citizens don’t usually spend that much on politicians they want to see win an election. Most Americans don’t donate at all, and of those who do, only half of one percent donate a sum that’s over $200, per OpenSecrets.org research on the issue.
That means that corporations are, by and large, more influential than the average person is on who should become the next president, or who should win an election within their Congressional districts. While American voters are relegated to speaking in a whisper, corporations are free to use a megaphone, or ten of them if they want, to get their message out.
This creates two problems. The obvious one is that it means corporations have more influence over what commercials get aired or who hears their message than does John Q. Public. The constant barrage of commercials from a corporate entity versus the legitimate but limited voicing of concerns of a group of citizens means that you’re more likely to hear one side of the issue more than the other — and you can probably wager a good sum of money over which side that’s going to be.
The second problem, however, is that all of this outside spending is also going to influence politicians themselves. Consider this example: if a gas company spends $10 million in favor of a candidate for president, and a group of citizens concerned about the environment is able to scrounge up $30,000 for that same person, which position on climate change do you think that candidate is going to take should they win office? We can hope that the candidate takes a principled position based on their morals and true beliefs on the subject, but there’s certainly going to be an air of distrust that comes about if they choose to support the opinions of that gas company over the everyday citizens.
Lawmakers, especially on the Democratic side of the aisle, have for years tried to make the system fairer, in favor of regulating corporate spending and making citizens’ voices predominantly heard once more. Recently, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-California) submitted a proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution, and thereby bypass the Citizens United ruling altogether.
Our democracy is not for sale. We must stop the flood of dark money from drowning out the voices of everyday citizens.
That's why I just introduced a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and restore power to the American people. pic.twitter.com/YNYzb35uSf
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) May 8, 2019
“Our democracy is not for sale. We must stop the flood of dark money from drowning out the voices of everyday citizens,” Schiff said in a statement introducing his amendment.
The text of the amendment reads as follows:
Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to forbid Congress or the States from imposing reasonable content-neutral limitations on private campaign contributions or independent election expenditures, or from enacting systems of public campaign financing, including those designed to restrict the influence of private wealth by offsetting campaign spending or independent expenditures with increased public funding.
Amending the U.S. Constitution, of course, is an arduous process, and purposely so — the founders rightly surmised that any substantial changes to our nation’s primary governing document should not be made on a whim, but rather after careful consideration and agreement from a supermajority of lawmakers across the country as a whole.
Unfortunately, because of that, this necessary change to how our campaign finance system works faces huge burdens — including partisan squabbles — and won’t likely get passed anytime soon. Such an amendment requires two-thirds of both houses of Congress, or two-thirds of the states, to agree to submit it to the country as a whole. After that, three-fourths of the states must then ratify the proposal for it to be included in the Constitution.
This issue transcends political parties, however, as most Americans already support the idea. Three-fourths of respondents to a poll published last year supported the idea of a Constitutional amendment allowing state and national governments the right to regulate campaign finance law. Out of the Republicans surveyed, 66 percent supported the measure.
It’s far-past time our political leaders get on board with the wants and desires of the American people. One way to do that is to ensure that the American people’s voices are being heard over the corporate elite, who have an unlimited monetary advantage over the everyday citizen.
For the time being, Schiff’s amendment isn’t likely to go anywhere. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to propose it — and to keep on pushing it forward, until it one day becomes a reality.