Federal Campaign Reform Requires Transparency

Kyle Seasly

Since the U.S. Supreme Court defined money as speech in Buckley v. Valeo, U.S. federal elections have become increasingly more akin to an ad campaign selling the latest American lager than a model republic’s electoral process.

Whoever puts up more posters with shinier smiles and makes you think they’re someone you “can have a beer with” is the candidate you’re going to support. Even the Associated Students of Whitman College sets up a $50 spending cap on elections, but somehow the federal government can’t take the same basic steps that a bunch of nerds in Walla Walla can.

On April 2, in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court confirmed that there could be no restrictions on public campaign donations, striking down bipartisan campaign reform legislation. Noam Chomsky immediately said, “Let’s forget any pretense of being a democratic society,” and I agree with him.

Money should not mean speech. The first amendment should be attributed to everyone evenly: press, speech, assembly, religion and petition––everyone enjoys an equal say. No one has a “more equal” right to petition or assembly. Each individual has singular power––no more, no less. Throwing money into the equation makes everything more complicated and less equal. Justice Stevens said in his dissent in this case’s predecessor, Citizens United v. FEC, “The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation.”

It’s not necessarily true that money always wins elections. It certainly helps, although it can be argued that the parties that get more money are more popular and therefore win because of the combination. This ruling empowers people who are supported by wealthy individuals, a class that is grossly misrepresented already in the U.S. political process. Sixty-six percent of senators and 41 percent of house members are millionaires. These are the people representing the American people, who are supposedly in touch with our values.  Money does find its way into politics.

The first step in campaign reform should be transparency, so at least the public can be aware of who is making the big donations to campaigns and how that effects legislation. Even Senator John McCain commented, “I am concerned that today’s ruling may represent the latest step in an effort by a majority of the Court to dismantle entirely the longstanding structure of campaign finance law erected to limit the undue influence of special interests on American politics.” Super PACs and unlimited individual donations are indeed the first steps toward a continuing special interest government. Only 700 people reached the individual limit.