News / USA

Supreme Court Fuels Money Surge in US Politics

Supreme Court Rulings Fuel Financial Surge in U.S. Electionsi
X
Jim Malone
May 20, 2014 11:46 PM
Supreme Court's relaxing of campaign contribution restrictions has government watchdogs saying the additional donations increase the potential for corruption, as we hear from VOA National correspondent Jim Malone in Washington.
Supreme Court Rulings Fuel Financial Surge in U.S. Elections
The numbers are astounding.  According to the Federal Election Commission, nearly $7 billion was spent on the 2012 U.S. presidential election, and that includes spending by candidates, parties and outside groups.  During this year’s congressional campaign cycle, monitoring groups estimate about $2.6 billion will be spent on television advertising alone.
 
Recent Supreme Court decisions have also helped to open the money spigots even more.  The 2010 case known as Citizens United loosened restrictions on donations from corporations, labor unions and outside groups.  This year’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC struck down many of the overall limits on campaign donations from individuals, opening up fresh avenues of contributions to even more members of Congress, challengers and political committees.

Both Supreme Court rulings came on five to four decisions, so the court remains sharply divided on issues of money and politics.  But for now, the more conservative view of Chief Justice John Roberts is carrying the day on the high court, suggesting that more stringent campaign finance laws are not likely to pass muster with the five-member conservative majority on the high court.  Of course, before that could happen, Congress would have to act to retighten campaign finance laws and there is no sign of that happening anytime soon.
 
Fears of corruption

Political watchdog groups are watching the expansion of campaign donations with growing concern.  Sheila Krumholz is the executive director of The Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, a nonpartisan research group that tracks campaign spending and the influence of money in politics.  “The central tension is between freedom of speech and fear of corruption, or the appearance of corruption”, she says.   “We don’t want to censor anyone from being able to speak their mind and use their money in some ways.  On the other hand, if you use a lot of money and depending on its source, it could have a corrupting influence.”
 
Krumholz says it is clear that the current Supreme Court values “speech” in the form of campaign contributions more than concerns about corruption.  She says the court decisions in recent years have strengthened the hand of wealthy political contributors and outside groups that wish to donate money, feeding the notion that those with the most money “speak loudest.”
 
Money equals speech

Supporters of the recent Supreme Court rulings expanding the rights of political contributors have a far different take.  Conservatives have long equated the right to freely give campaign contributions with free speech.  They chafed for years as a steady stream of campaign finance laws went on the books, which in their view restricted the right of individuals to make themselves heard in the political market place.
 
“Basically money helps people speak.  So yes, money isn’t speech, but money helps buy speech,” says David Keating, president of The Center for Competitive Politics, a group that seeks to expand First Amendment rights to free expression.  “People ought to be able to spend whatever they want saying what they want to other people in the United States and then let the voters decide.”  Keating believes the government should get out of the business of trying to regulate campaign contributions altogether.  “The bigger danger is letting the people who are in the government decide what people are allowed to say about the government.”
 
The debate has played out at times in the halls of Congress.  Not long ago in an exchange on the Senate floor, Senator Democratic leader Harry Reid went toe-to-toe with his Republican counterpart, Senator Mitch McConnell.  Reid has spent a lot of time thundering against conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, major players in funding of conservative candidates and causes.   “The founders believed in a democracy where every American had a voice and a vote,” Reid argued recently, trying to get voters to focus on campaign finance as an issue in this year’s elections.
 
But Senator McConnell fired back that all Americans regardless of their economic status should have the right to express themselves in election spending, no matter which side of the political aisle they happen to sit on.  “There are many wealthy Americans who feel deeply about the country, who are committed to one side or the other, who are trying to have an impact on the country, as many on the left as on the right.”  Republicans often counter attacks aimed at the Koch brothers by citing wealthy liberal activists like George Soros and Tom Steyer.
 
Fears of another scandal

Reform advocates acknowledge that the exploding money chase is bipartisan in nature.  “Money ultimately speaks and in many cases money speaks loudest and it doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you are on both parties are complicit in this process,” says Sheila Krumholz.  But she argues that doesn’t make it any less of a threat in terms of the potential for abuse and corruption.  She fears a return to the kinds of campaign abuses that came to light during the Watergate scandal of the 1970’s when bags of money were secretly handed over to political campaigns with an understanding that the contributors would be taken care of down the line.
 
Krumholz also worries that with Congress deadlocked on the issue and the Supreme Court not open to further reform, voters will be left with the impression that government is simply unwilling or unable to address the problem.  “I think until we have that kind of open, honest dialogue it is going to take a scandal to make us confront this problem.”  She also says the voters are ultimately responsible for pushing the issue.  “We own them.  They work for us.  So we need to be better managers of our government.  It’s our government and if it’s broken, who’s responsible?  We are.”

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: larry from: US
May 26, 2014 4:25 PM
This should show you all just how corrupt the govt is, including the supreme court justices. This whole "no cap on election funding" absolutely makes elections 100% unfair. This guarantees that the little man has no chance of being heard. All the big corporations, and the banks have to do is pump literally BILLIONS into the candidate they choose, and viola you have yet another corporate shoe-in who will do the big businesses bidding. That is the EXACT reason why our country lost over 2 million jobs to china. As soon as bill clinton got elected, he introduced China into the world free trade agreement and all of the good high paying jobs quickly moved over to china, as well as all the factories. This will continue thanks to these supreme court justices.

by: Cranksy from: USA
May 21, 2014 12:15 AM
"If money equals speech, speech isn't free" was a message I saw on a placard at a political rally. Please spread the word.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs