How money has fundamentally changed the way groups and individuals participate in politics.
Money in politics.
It’s the equivalent of putting peanut butter on your hamburger. While 1% of you will swear it makes the burger “come together”, the other 99% of us will be disgusted by the sheer decadence of the matter.
Ever since the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United v. FEC, the proliferation of money in politics has become a troubling fact that many of us just now live with, like knowing one day the Sun will burn out and extinguish all life on Earth.
Yet even with everyone anticipating that money would be playing a larger part in the future of politics, the level that which it has integrated itself into the system is still startling. Since the Citizens United verdict, reports have estimated that outside spending on elections have more than doubled. In reality it’s likely more than that since FEC numbers – the estimates that many outside groups use to measure campaign spending – doesn’t account for the spending of issue ads. Also with the ruling came the rise of super PACs – Political-Action Committees that purchase unlimited political advertising due to it being protected under free speech – which research has concluded are generally funded by the wealthy and well connected.
To see an example of how bad the problem has gotten, all you have to do is look at the case of Target Corp.
In 2010 Target Corp gave $150,000 to the political group Minnesota Forward, a group that ran TV ads supporting state legislator Tom Emmer who was the GOP frontrunner for the governor’s race at the time. Yet due to Emmer’s anti-gay marriage stance, it sparked a firestorm of protests in Minnesota, ranging from boycotts to demonstrations outside Target stores. After much controversy Target Corp apologized for their political donation and said in the future that they would “revise their policies on political spending” for the next election cycle. So you would think the practical choice here would be to focus on candidates that lined up with their business platform and supported gay rights.
The funny thing here, practicality has as much of a place in American politics as sushi has in a Chinese buffet.
What Target Corp did instead was use a shotgun approach to political spending by contributing to both Republican and Democratic candidates. They even went as far as contributing $30,000 to both the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, thus supporting both pro and anti-gay rights candidates.
However this isn’t an isolated incident by just Target Corp. In 2010 the Center for Responsive Politics found that out of the 100 top non-individual donors, the Democrats and Republicans shared the top 48 of them!
It’s a lot like accidentally breaking your child’s favorite toy but instead of fixing it, you go to your other child and break their favorite toy as well! Granted you have made it “fairer” by giving your children ample material for their future sessions with their psychologist Dr. Gayhart, but it doesn’t make the situation any less fucked!
Sadly though for a corporation this makes the most sense. All corporations want is access to politicians and the easiest way of doing that would be to donate to both parties. That way regardless of who wins, they’re ensured access when it’s time to create legislation. Now if you’re sitting there thinking, “that’s kinda messed up that the same logic used by a Vegas bookie to bet on horse racing is also used in campaign financing,” then congratulations. You have now entered my existential despair when it comes to researching content for this site.
But it isn’t just outside groups that are affected by the ludicrous amount of money going into the political system; it also goes as far as the candidates themselves. Take the potential nominees that are running for the 2016 presidential race.
There are many candidates out there that have shown a legitimate interest in running. Basically on a daily basis you hear of a litany of candidates (Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, ect.) building a team, traveling around in a bus to remote areas like New Hampshire and Iowa, and preforming in front of wealthy supporters. Which means they’re either running for president or creating the lamest Grateful Dead cover band ever!
But here’s the weird thing, even though it’s painfully obvious that these politicians are running to become the next President of the United States, only a handful of them have admitted to running. It’s gotten so bad that many of them won’t even use the words “testing the waters” when it comes to showing interest in running for the 2016 presidential election, because like that boyfriend you were dating for five years, even the vaguest terms of commitment would be making their intentions “way too serious.”
So, what gives?
Actually, it’s a funny story. And of course by “funny” I mean “soul-crushingly depressing.”
It turns out that under the current campaign finance laws once you make your intentions known that you want to run for president, then you’re required to report actions taken to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC). Until then, you’re basically free to do whatever you wish. Actions like creating a leadership PAC, being politically active with friendly non-profits, or even creating a super-PAC don’t have to be reported to the FEC during this time. This basically means politicians can create a sizable war chest – with no fundraising limits – before they “officially” announce their candidacy. It’s the presidential nominees’ equivalent of an Amish Rumspringa. Three months of experimental fundraising with no regrets or repercussions!
Yet some just party a little too hard.
Take Jeb Bush.
Around four months ago when he announced he wanted to “actively explore” the possibility of running for president, Bush started to create a network of external advisors so he could fundraise outside of FEC restrictions, before he “officially” announced he was running for the GOP ticket. Using political tactics like creating nonprofit groups – such as Right to Rise Policy Solutions – Bush has aggressively raised an impressive political war chest in recent weeks. By using Right to Rise Policy Solutions, individuals and groups can donate an unlimited amount of funds while still remaining anonymous. This strategy has been so successful that Bush had to actually request his supporters to stop giving him money after raising a reported $1 million!
That’s almost as depressing as a stripper having to give financial advice to a lonely dock worker telling him to ease up on the hundreds while she’s on stage!
While we are singling out Jeb Bush – and for very good reason – in all honesty he’s no different from any other candidate running for president in 2016, Republican or Democrat. Late last month, The Campaign Legal Center along with many other watch dog groups have accused multiple 2016 candidates of intentionally skirting campaign finance laws so they could collect more money before officially announcing their candidacy, thus being not being held accountable to FEC filings.
Yet while this practice is incredibly sketchy, the problem is with current campaign finance laws as they are now, it’s become a necessity for candidates to accrue as much money as they possibly can for to even have a shot at the presidency. Last year’s midterms were the most expensive elections in US history topping nearly $4 billion, with experts predicting that the 2016 presidential contest will approach double-digit spending in the billions! To put that into perspective, the 2008 Obama campaign raised and spent around $750 million in campaign funds. This was so impressive at the time, that many dubbed Obama’s fundraising effort as “the money machine” and even wrote a God damn book about it! The sad reality is $750 million may legitimately not be enough to compete in the 2016 presidential race!
That is how fucked up our current campaign finance system is. In this current system, you have more than enough to buy the Philadelphia 76ers – a profitable NBA team in a big sports market – but you may not have enough to just RUN (!!!) for president in 2016!
So while the Citizens United case didn’t create the charred husk that is campaign financing, I think we can all agree, that pouring kerosene everywhere while screaming “burn, motherfucker, burn” isn’t helping matters either.
(Photo Credits: Joseph Keppler/Puck Magazine, Instagram, Yelp, Google Images)