With a looming midterm election hovering over our heads (in which every member in the house is up for re-election) the thought about how much money is being spent in this current election cycle is somewhat important. Money and politics go together like bees and honey, but here’s the thing: they shouldn’t.
When you mix money and politics together, you get a very dangerous mixture because money begins to dictate how a politician acts and even whether or not they get elected to office. After all, without campaign funding from big donors, how can you pay your volunteers, run your ads, and mail out your fliers? Those things are crucial to a campaign now-a-days, its how you justify to your constituency what you believe in, and further more it shows them you are a serious candidate.
Now, while money plays a crucial role in both how a congressman or senator votes and whether or not they get elected, it doesn’t completely control elections and votes. Elected officials still do need to vote the way their district or state wants them too that way they can get re-elected. And in elections, if your likable (and lucky) enough, it is possible to beat your opponent even if you have limited funds. Chance are by now you’ve heard the name Dave Brat, the Tea Party Cantor-Conquerer, who raised 1/25 (4%) of Cantors $5 million budget. Brat, in the end, raised only $200,000.
While this may sound like a true David and Goliath story, theres more to it than just the money. Cantor was facing a lot of blow back from conservative commentators and grass roots organizations because of his push for an Immigration Bill. The Richmond Tea Party and conservative radio hosts such as Laura Ingraham liked Brat because of his strong Tea Party values and specifically because he was the opposite of Cantor on immigration.
In some cases, support from big names, not big money, win elections as proved by Brat. But a majority of the time, if you don’t have money flowing in, you don’t have a campaign. As I mentioned earlier, you need to pay the volunteers, mail out the fliers and buy the TV spots and the only way you can do that is with money. But, money does still play a crucial role, not so much in elections, but in voting.
We’ve all heard of lobbyists, the usually former congressman and senators who mull about Capitol Hill trying to persuade their former colleagues to vote for bills that will benefit their employers. Of course, if a congressman or senator vote the way the lobbyists ask, the big company paying the lobbying firm and the lobbyist reward the voter with campaign funding.
Since the popular idea in elections is that the most money wins, congressmen and senators play into the game of lobbying firms, lobbyists and big business. Many have proposed the idea of a spending cap in elections, that way lobbyists and big business’s can’t use money as a bargaining tool as much.
Here’s then problems though, the very men who could make this possible (the lawmakers) would never vote for a bill like this for two reasons. The first reason is they love money constantly flowing into their campaign. The more money they have, the better the campaign will be. They can hire better campaign mangers, crate higher quality adds, and employ more staff. Without that steady flow of donor cash they receive from businesses, they won’t be able to out raise their opponent.
The second reason is the somewhat more despicable reasoning. Big businesses would never go for it. They enjoy the facts that they can buy votes. Lawmakers to big businesses are pawns. Businesses can pay in campaign donations to have bills brought onto the floor, voted on and sometimes passed into law. And if such a spending cap bill were to be brought to floor of the house or senate, big companies like Exxon Mobile, Goldman-Sachs, and other big corporations would make sure that it never passed. I’ll leave you to guess how.
So you decide, is money’s role in politics too big? Many would argue that it’s not. A few of those people would be 5 of the 9 Supreme Court justices. You probably remember back in April when the Supreme Court struck down a decades-old cap on the total amount any individual can contribute to federal candidates in a two-year election cycle in the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling. While the courts decision only effects the amount an individual can contribute, the courts majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts had a very interesting quote about first amendment rights.
“Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so, too, does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects. If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests and Nazi parades — despite the profound offense such spectacles cause — it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.”
What Chief Justice Roberts is saying is essentially that money is speech, or at least a form of it, there for just like you can say as much as you want, you can spend as much as you want. Just like corporations are people, money is now speech, at least legally. Sadly you can’t use speech as currency when paying your phone bill. But at least when your donating money to your favorite candidate for senate or congress, you can brag that your exercising your first amendment without even opening your mouth.
Graphic from The New York Times on the supreme courts decision on McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.