Students better begin plotting how they will make their millions (no, wait, multi-billions) in order to join the ranks of the mighty 1 percent. The more money lining a citizen’s pockets, the louder their voice, at least according to five Supreme Court Justices who decided the fate of the nation on April 2 as they continued on their campaign finance reform crusade.
Individuals are no longer limited to how much they can contribute in total to federal campaigns as the Supreme Court voted in favor of the plaintiff in the McCutcheon v Federal Elections Commission (FEC) case. According to Chief Justice John Roberts, money is free speech.
Shaun McCutcheon, CEO of Coalmont Electrical Development, an engineering firm that specializes in the mining industry, maxed out his federal political campaign contributions last year at $44,200. “Somehow, I can give the individual limit, now [before April 2] $2,600, to 17 candidates without corrupting the system. But as soon as I give that same amount to an 18th candidate, our democracy is suddenly at risk,” McCutcheon said.
The Republican National Committee teamed up with McCutcheon and sued the Federal Elections Commission, whose duty it is to oversee campaign finances. McCutcheon said contributing to unlimited congressional races was upheld by freedom of speech under the First Amendment, and the Supreme Court upheld this claim.
There is still a limit of $2,600 that one person can donate to one congressman, but now citizens may donate to as many congressmen as they please.
The flood gates have been opened.
“It’s already the case that a candidate or office holder, say a member of Congress, spends a huge amount of time focusing on fundraising,” Associate Professor of Political Science Keith Fitzgerald said. “[The McCutcheon decision] just makes that worse and makes fundraising a bigger part of their job. There’s no place to hide. It doesn’t matter anymore if you’re in a safe seat or a competitive seat, you have to be fundraising all of the time.”
The main focus of Congress is supposed to be on making good public policy. Another aspect of the job is, of course, trying to get reelected. According to Fitzgerald, the McCutcheon decision just means there are fewer people working on legislation and good policy, “Everybody is a full-time fundraiser all the time. It’s already been going in that direction but this just makes it a done deal.”
“It’s even going to have an impact on the quality and motivation of the candidates in the long run,” Fitzgerald continued. Being a full-time fundraiser discourages people from running for office. If a candidate wants to run for office in order to enact good policy and make a difference and find out that a huge chunk of their time will go toward calling up donors and asking for money, they may be a huge turn off to a lot of people.
Another aspect is that the deregulation of campaign contributions just puts more power in the hands of the rich elite.
“I just find it preposterous that the founding fathers would have thought that this is what the first amendment meant,” Fitzgerald said. “Knowing what they were worried about, that the American Revolution was about too much influence in the hands of a small number of people who could manipulate the political process, that’s what they were rebelling against, there is no way that they meant the First Amendment to mean that wealthy people would have such a disproportionate voice in politics.”