Campaign Financing

It seems to me….

Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite.” (“Every democracy gets the government it deserves.”) ~ Joseph de Maistre[1].

Elections are an indispensable mechanism of representative democracy allowing citizens to express their will, select their leaders, and shape the nature and direction of their society. One of the negative aspects of U.S. elections is that they have become increasingly expensive: funds are needed to establish a campaign office, hire staff, do polling, get the campaign message out, for the candidate to travel and meet prospective voters….

Members of the U.S. Congress are currently so dependent upon funding from large donors that they typically spend an average of three out of five weekdays raising money for their reelection. This is time not spent caring for and debating the issues that benefit society at large: us. Furthermore, importantly, the funding greatly influences the way politicians vote on measures; they listen to campaign funders and lobbyists more than anyone else passing laws which assist only a small fraction of people while harming the remainder. Indeed, what many congresspersons today are actually focused on are lucrative lobbying careers after leaving Congress rather than serving the public interest.

Corruption and abuses related to the financing of elections and political parties are among the most common dangers confronting democracies today. Large donations by wealthy individuals and special interest groups can give those donors a disproportionate amount of influence. Even if no strings are attached to a donation, accepting large donations can breed perceptions of influence buying and special treatment. Elections can only be contested by wealthy individuals or those with wealthy friends and supporters – those who cannot raise enough money cannot compete.

The U.S. Congress first banned corporations from funding federal campaigns in 1907 with the Tillman Act. In 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act extended the ban to labor unions but the laws were weak and enforcement difficult. It wasn’t until 1971 that Congress became serious and passed the Federal Election Campaign Act requiring full reporting of campaign contributions and expenditures and placing limits on spending for media advertisements.

In 2002, Congress enacted legislation, the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Act, limiting both the amount that individuals and organizations could contribute directly to political candidates and the amount they could independently spend in the final days of an election campaign either in support of or in opposition to specific political candidates.

The purpose of the legislation was to limit the impact corporations and unions could have on American politics and create a more fair political process both by reducing the opportunities for corruption and improper influence and to some degree by “equalizing” the influence different individuals and organizations could have on the political process.

In 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC held unconstitutional in a 5-4 decision a key provision that placed limits on the amount of money corporations and unions could spend to support or oppose political candidates in effect saying it is legal for corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want to convince people to vote for or against a candidate. In another court case, v. FEC, a lower-court used the Citizens United case as precedent when it said any limits on contributions to groups that make independent expenditures are unconstitutional.

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled limitations on aggregate donations violated constitutional rights of free speech striking down limits on how much an individual could contribute to candidates of a political party and eliminating restrictions preventing wealthy interests from buying official favors by funding politicians or political organizations, it has opened the door to what essentially is legal corruption. The entire issue of democratic legitimacy is now open to question providing moneyed interests the loudest voice in electoral campaigns.

Since 1984, political campaign spending has outpaced increases in every spending category increasing 555 percent whereas median household income increased only 128 percent. Increases in other categories are healthcare 425 percent and GDP 308 percent[2].

Each successive election now becomes the most expensive in U.S. history not only encouraging but even requiring candidate indebtedness to wealth supporters. Increased public awareness of purchased influence widely considers the practice to be objectionable but Citizens United has effectively turned candidates into prostitutes. While most elected officials claim they favor election reform, they disagree on what should be done when it possibly could negatively affect their personal fund raising opportunities. In practice, it will be very difficult to eliminate this seemingly legal form of corruption from our democratic processes.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Joseph-Marie, comte de Maistre was a Savoyard philosopher, writer, lawyer, and diplomat.

[2] Scherer, Michael and Pratheek Reishala. Campaign Inflation, Time, 3 November 2014, p11.


About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in Abuse, Campaign, Campaign, Candidate, Candidate, Citizens United, Citizens United, Citizens United v. FEC, Citizens United v. FEC, Congress, Corruption, Donations, Elections, Federal Election Campaign Act, Influence, Lobbyists, McCain-Feingold, McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Act, Office, Polling, Reform, v. FEC, Spending, Staff, Supreme Court, Supreme Court, Taft-Hartley Act, Tillman Act, travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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