EDITORIAL: Voters key to limiting campaign cash
Most Americans want a limit on the massive money pouring into our nation’s political campaigns.
Most Americans believe big campaign donors have more political influence than they deserve.
Most Americans want to see real change.
Those are the only conclusions that can be drawn from a recent survey of U.S. adults by the well-respected Pew Research Center.
The polling found that 77 percent of Americans believe there should be limits on the amount of money individuals and groups can spend on campaigns. About 65 percent believe new laws could be written that would be effective in reducing the role of money in politics. And 90 percent say it’s very important or somewhat important that major political donors not have more influence than others.
And contrary to popular thinking, this is not just the feeling among Democrats. In fact, there is widespread and bipartisan agreement on the issue. Yes, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to support limits on campaign donations. Still, 71 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say there should be limits on campaign spending and 54 percent believe new laws could be written that would be effective in limiting the influence of money in politics.
Given that kind of extensive, broad-based support for change, you would think it would be a no-brainer that campaign finance reform would be an issue that both parties would be anxious to work on together.
Unfortunately, you would be wrong.
Hurdles to reform: That’s because there are a few major impediments to reform.
First, many, if not most, of those with power and money like things just the way they are. It gives them broad access to and influence over our nation’s politicians.
Second, many of the incumbent politicians like it because the big money from big donors makes it more likely they’ll keep their jobs.
Finally, the biggest hurdle to real change is our Supreme Court. Its landmark 2010 Citizens United decision found that the Constitution prohibits the government from restricting independent spending for communications by nonprofit and for-profit corporations, labor unions and other associations.
In essence, the high court’s 5-4 ruling said corporations and unions can spend as much as they want to in outside cash to influence an election.
What is the result of that decision?
It means millions of dollars are flowing into political campaigns across the nation.
The 2016 Pennsylvania example: The heated 2016 Pennsylvania Senate campaign between Pat Toomey and Katie McGinty, for example, set a record with more than $188 million spent on the race, including a staggering total of more than $135 million in outside spending. Those numbers are according to OpenSecrets.Org.
That’s downright frightening. When there’s kind of campaign money pouring into an election, the out-sized influence can only lead to one thing — corruption.
It should also be noted that Toomey raised nearly twice the amount for his own campaign that McGinty raised. Not surprisingly, Toomey won.
So what can be done to change the political landscape?
In the short term, relatively little.
Voters hold key: In the long term, however, the voters hold the key.
If the voters want real change (and the poll certainly indicates they do), they must elect politicians who will push for change when they get into office.
Even more importantly, they’ll have to elect politicians who will vote for Supreme Court justices who will opt to overturn the Citizens United ruling, which is a clear and present danger to our democracy.
In the end, it will be up to the voters, both Democratic and Republican — who have said in overwhelming numbers that they want real change — to make that change happen.