Campaign Financing has been a big issue in the world of politics long before the paramount Supreme Court case Citizens United (2010) was ruled upon. Political candidates from both sides of the aisle have received donations from big businesses and corporations, while other political candidates advocate for receiving small donations from the everyday American. In Citizens United, the Court ruled that the government could not limit a corporation’s First Amendment right to donate to political campaigns. Some argue that this was a detrimental decision in the Court, although some still approve of it. Is unlimited campaign financing and unions acceptable? Was the Court’s decision correct? Abhishek Rana takes the affirmative while Sydney Stumpf takes the opposition. Let us know your opinions on maldenblueandgold.com
The role of corporations and money in politics has always been a heated debate at the very core of American politics. Before we can analyze the role of money in politics, we have to look at the recent history of campaign finance regulation.
In 2002, the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act (McCain-Feingold act) restricted corporations and labor organizations from financing issue-based advertising on behalf of candidates, which it called “electioneering communication.” During the closely contested 2008 Democratic Primary between front runners Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Citizens United- a conservative non-profit organization that receives money from private individuals and some corporations- released a documentary that was highly critical of Clinton, spending a million dollars on doing so.
In the landmark 2010 Supreme Court Case, Citizens United V. Federal Election Commission (FEC), Citizens United challenged the McCain-Feingold Act, arguing that its regulations on “electioneering communication” violated the First Amendment of the U.S Constitution. In a narrow 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the McCain-Feingold ban on corporate and union expenditures was unconstitutional because it violated freedom of expression.
Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion for the court, stating that “were the Court to uphold these restrictions, the Government could repress speech by silencing certain voices at any of the various points in the speech process.”
The decision granted corporations and labor unions the ability to spend unlimited amounts of money on ads through the use of Political Action Committees (PACs), although direct contributions to candidates remained illegal.
In the aftermath, many have heavily criticized the ruling and continue to voice their concerns over the influence of money in politics. Those who argue in favor of new campaign finance reform make the central contention that money is not a form of expression and that corporations and unions do not have the same free speech rights as individuals.
The assertion that money in politics can be restricted because “it’s not speech,” correlates freedom of expression with just one’s vocal cords. Money is another tool through which expressions can be made, similar to using a pen and paper, doing a television broadcast, or organizing a political event.
As for the role of corporations in our politics and the claims that they do not have free speech rights, I would like to point to corporations the New York Times, CNN, Fox News, Wall Street Journal, CBS or any other media outlet that openly endorse certain candidates and policies as well as engage in political speech. Do you honestly believe a corporation giving money to a candidate influences an election more than media outlets applauding their preferred candidate for an entire election cycle? Yet we don’t limit the resources media corporations can spend in favor of or against certain candidates and policies. We don’t because it would be a government crackdown on free speech, which is exactly what telling Americans how to spend their money is.
Instead, the election reform being proposed recently comes in the form of the “For the people act of 2019” (H.R.1) which in addition to administering campaign finance reform, also seeks to nationalize elections, violating the states’ constitutional right under Article 1, Section 4 to decide how they want to run their elections. Even the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) came account against the House Democrats’ bill in a 13-page letter announcing their opposition, stating that provisions in the bill “will have the effect of harming our public discourse by silencing necessary voices that would otherwise speak out about the public issues of the day.”
A far better system is to allow individual unlimited contributions but with immediate disclosure. What we ultimately need is to be transparent with money in politics, not to restrict or eliminate it entirely.
Introduced in January by Rep. John P. Sarbanes of Maryland, H.R.1 is a bill also known as “For the People Act of 2019.” The bill, although divided into three sections (Voting, Campaign Finance, and Ethics), has made a statement in the realm of Campaign Financing, creating need for reflection on former Court cases like Citizens United (2010) which ruled that the federal government cannot limit spending on political campaigns by corporations or unions. H.R.1 explicitly calls this, and other Court decisions relating to campaign financing, “flawed.” This proposed bill focuses on incentivizing political candidates to accept small donations over large ones from corporations/unions.
The heart of the matter is, campaign financing has become entirely out of control and unethical. Corporations, unions, these large businesses who donate hundreds, thousands, millions of dollars to political candidates are not reflective of the American people as a whole. Heads of these institutions make the decisions to donate these large sums of money to political candidates based off of their own personal or business interests as opposed to the opinion of a company as a whole. Campaign financing in this sort of way is a gross misuse of power.
When big businesses and major corporations donate large sums of money to political candidates, they often have influence in the policies that the recipient of said funds. This contributes to corruption in politics because politicians are influenced and controlled by major businesses and corporations instead of completely on their own policies and beliefs. The electoral college was created in order to more accurately reflect the needs of all Americans, in order to combat against mob-rule. However, with unlimited campaign financing by these giant groups of people, it is counterproductive when policies are not beneficial to the people but rather to the donors.
When major businesses and corporations donate large sums of money, they influence politics in order to increase business and improve their bottom line. When this happens, money and power
The Citizens United Supreme Court case was a major mistake in the United States Court’s history. Unlimited political funding by major corporations should not fall under the First Amendment right to free speech and freedom of expression, because corporations and big businesses should not be considered in the same light as American individuals. If a billionaire were to independently donate large sums of money to political campaigns, that does, I believe, fall under the First Amendment right. However, as soon as that billionaire donates large chunks of money on behalf of their business or corporation, I do not believe that the same rights and freedoms should apply. That one person does not speak for the entirety of the corporation or business and should not place the institution in the support or opposition of political candidates. All in all, the Supreme Court decision of Citizens United ruled in a way that is detrimental to the sanctity of the U.S. political system and allows major businesses and corporations to control the government, using political candidates as their puppets. Political candidates should take stands against corporate donations and PAC donations. Democratic Presidential Candidate Kirsten Gillibrand has publicly said that she will not accept PAC or corporate donations, while other candidates like Bernie Sanders, pride themselves on individual donations.