On 2010 the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Citizens United vs. FEC that corporations could make contributions to political campaigns similar to the rights of ordinary citizens. Then last week, on April 2, 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in McCutcheon v. FEC that a single donor can give up to $3.6 million in one election cycle, money that political parties and other political organizations, PACs, and Super PACs can now funnel into aiding individual candidate who still have campaign limits as well as to ballot initiatives. Previously an individual could give no more than $123,200 in total political contributions during any election cycle. This is a 30 fold increase over what an individual could previously contribute.
Political contributions have been considered by the Court to be part of 1st Amendment rights of free speech. The purpose for limiting political contributions for candidates and total political contributions by individuals was to prevent donors from corrupting political candidates by influencing and enticing them with big money from big donors who have self interests. It seem strange that bribery is not considered part of freedom of speech and is illegal but the Court considers huge donations that influence election outcomes and influence how elected legislators pass legislation as part of free speech. This is tantamount to legalized bribery in the worst sense due to the scope of of its effects upon all citizens.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that freedom of political money-expression is changing the way our government protects the rights of the common citizen vs that of big money. Money is the lifeblood of political campaigns. Candidates with lots of money have a far greater chance of winning over those without as much because their voice can be heard more repeatedly and to a far broader audience through the purchase of ads. Big money obviously has more financial influence to change elections in their favor than the average citizen. The more money they can funnel into political campaigns the higher chance candidates persuaded by money interests will get elected. Since the wealthy are less than 5% of the population they have a disproportionate influence in the outcomes of elections thus defeating the purpose of a democracy in representing the majority.
So even if the general population has the symbolic majority of votes, only candidates who have the financial support of big money will be able to afford the cost of running an expensive campaign eliminating other potential candidates. It is unfortunate that so many voters are so out of touch with their representative and quite unfamiliar with who is running for office. Thus many voters can be manipulated with false and deceptive ads and promises.
The question to ask is to what extent can freedom of speech and expression be allowed before it becomes detrimental to the purpose of a democracy (or more properly a republic) in representing the will of the vast majority of people? It is clear that advocating the violent overthrow of our government should not be allowed because it violates the rights of most other citizens. Likewise the use of big money to influence and bias public officials to more represent the sources of large contributors who consists of a small fraction of the population is also an abuse of so called free expression. However the way things are going perhaps contributions limits to individual candidates will be eliminated next. Campaign contribution limits needs to remain an integral part of our election process to safeguard against abuses. This just shows that we desperately need major election reform such as Publicly Funded Elections.
I have a problem with large political contributions being a 1st Amendment protected free expression right. Protected expression implies expressions publicly expressed without consequence. In order to protect the expression of donations using the 1st Amendment there must be something needing protecting. But what is there to protect in an expression of a politically donate? In order for donations to be deserving of protected free expression the donor’s identity and intentions must be expressed to the public at large otherwise there is nothing needing of protection. For most large donations there is no open expression except to the willing recipient so protecting such narrow expressions is irrelevant. Large donations are a matter of public record but are hand written scanned documents, not it digital format, so someone must dig out this information to publicly express it and intentions are not ever listed so not expressed. In order for donations to be considered a protected free expression donations over a certain token amount, in other word given as an expression instead of simply as an ordinary donation, should be openly publicized and the people, organizations, and purposes of the donation fully and publicly disclosed so that the donation is fully expressed and worthy of needing protection. Otherwise protection isn’t relevant thus 1st Amendment rights shouldn’t apply.
Below is an interesting YouTube Video which explains the implications of the McCutcheon Supreme Court ruling in clear language: