News / USA

Supreme Court Fuels Money Surge in US Politics

Supreme Court Rulings Fuel Financial Surge in U.S. Electionsi
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

800-Pound Man Determined to Slim Down

Man says he was kicked out of hospital for ordering pizza; wants to be an actor More

Australia Prepares to Resettle 12,000 Syrian Refugees

Preference will be given to refugees from persecuted minorities, and the first group is expected to arrive before late December More

S. African Miners Seek Class Action Suit Against Gold Mines

The estimated 100,000 say say they contracted the lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis in the mines More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs