If you pay attention to politics, even just a little bit, you’ll notice one constant. The United States Congress doesn’t work for the average American, it works for the wealthy and well-connected. Whether Republicans or Democrats are in control of Washington DC, the elite win, always. It’s been this way for my entire life and when you look at the research, it’s clear that it’s not just appearances, it’s reality.
Research has been done to not only prove this but to explain why this is. One Princeton study, for example, found that the opinions of the bottom 90% of income earners have essentially no impact at all. To quote the researchers, whom are Professors at Princeton and Northwestern University, “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
In 1867, Congress gave us the first federal campaign finance law. It’s been a fight ever since. If you’re interested, below is a breakdown of some key laws and decisions that has led to our modern state of campaign financing:
1907 – The Tillman Act: Corporations and national banks banned from contributing to federal campaigns.
1910 (amended in 1911) – The Publicity Act (aka the Federal Corrupt Practices Act): Required public disclosure of all money spent on elections by candidates and political parties in Congressional elections (general and primary elections). Set limits on how much a campaign could spend, as well as how much you could contribute to a candidate ($5,000 to a House candidate, $10,000 to a Senate candidate, or the amount set by state law – whichever was less). These limits did not apply to spending by voluntary associations supporting specific candidates.
1921 – Newberry v. United States: Supreme Court holds that Congress can’t regulate primary elections.
1935 – Public Utilities Holding Act: Prohibited public utility companiesvfrom making political contributions
1943 – The Smith-Connelly: Prohibited unions from making political contributions. Political Action Committees (PACs) were formed as a response to this. Since trade organizations, unions, and other special interests were prohibited from contributing directly to candidates or political parties, they formed PACs in order to contribute since voluntary associations were not prohibited under law.
1944 – Smith v. Allwright: Supreme Court holds that Congress can regulate primary elections. In a reverse of their 1921 decision, this one came about because of the rampant racial discrimination in primary elections which included the Texas Democratic party outright banning black Americans from voting in Congressional primary elections (ruled unconstitutional).
1971 – Election Campaign Act and Revenue Act: Largely replaced the Publicity Act, aka the Federal Corrupt Practices Act, or 1910 in terms of regulating campaign finance. This included more detailed and frequent reports on contributions and spending, extending these reports to primary elections, and set limits on how much candidates and parties could spend on certain types of advertising. It also allowed unions and corporations to use their own treasury funds to operate and solicit voluntary contributions for PACs.
1974 – Federal Election Campaign Act (amended): Federal Election Commission (FEC) established in order to enforce the law, facilitate the disclosure of financing to the public, and administer the public funding program which was added within this amendment (this is the section on your US income tax return forms which asks “Do you want $3 of your federal tax to go to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund?”).
Here Comes Big Money
So far, we have seen some real attempts at curbing corruption (along with some failures). However, now we start getting landmark decisions like Buckley v. Valeo which helps lead to giant money flowing into elections.
1976 – Buckley v. Valeo: The Supreme Court equates money is speech and rules that spending should not be limited. The court, in a baffling decision, ruled that while contributions could be limited in order to avoid corruption, or the appearance of corruption, spending could not corrupt elections and shall not be limited under the First Amendment. This distinction between contributions and spending remains a vital decision in regards to campaign finance law.
1979 – Federal Election Campaign Act (amended) – Major amendments to this act were made to comply to the Buckley v. Valeo ruling and to expand the role of political parties. As a result, unlimited donations from unions and corporations (previously prohibited) start to pour in at the federal level. This is known as the entrance of “soft money”.
1986 – FEC v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Inc.: The Supreme Court ruled that nonprofit corporations can use their treasury funds to unmistakably advocate for causes and candidates as long as they don’t accept funding from for-profit corporations.
2002 – Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (aka McCain-Feingold): After decades of effort by anti-corruption groups, Congress finally gave us something with McCain-Feingold. This law has several provisions designed to end the use of soft money (money raised outside the limits and prohibitions of federal campaign finance law) for the use of affecting federal elections. It also tied campaign contribution limits to inflation, put restrictions on groups running advertisements right before an election naming candidates, and required candidates to state their approval of ads at the beginning or end of ads.
2003 – McConnell v. FEC: Mitch McConnell (yes, the Mitch McConnell from Kentucky whom I am running to unseat) along with groups like the NRA and ACLU challenged the constitutionality of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (aka McCain-Feingold). The Supreme Court ruled largely in favor of McCain-Feingold and upheld most of the law (to the surprise of many).
2007 – Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC: Supreme Court ruling allows corporate and union money into elections. The Supreme Court found that corporations and unions can run ads prior to elections as long as they don’t explicitly advocate for a party or candidate. This began the flood of what’s called “issue ads”.
Dark Money and Big Money Runs Wild
Citizens United v. FEC basically took decisions like Buckley v. Valeo and put them on steroids. Big money and dark unaccountable money starts running rampant throughout our elections.
2010 – Citizens United v. FEC: The era of Super PACs and dark unaccountable money as we know it begins. In the most infamous campaign finance ruling, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that corporations may spend unlimited amounts of money on encouraging votes for or against candidates as long as they are not done so in coordination with candidates or parties. This decision quite literally nullified some restrictions on direct corporate involvement which had stood since the Tillman Act of 1907. The Justices that voted in favor of the ruling thought that the transparency of donors would reveal any corruption but due to other legislation and decisions (including a key ruling that same year in SpeechNow.org v. FEC where a federal appellate court ruled that contributions to groups that only make independent expenditures cannot corrupt or create the appearance of corruption) the era of the Super PACs begin along with an explosion of spending by nonprofits that don’t have to disclose whom their donors are.
2012 – American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock: The Citizens United decision becomes firmly established as the law of the land in both state and federal elections. A year earlier in 2011, the Montana Supreme Court went against the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2010 of Citizens United when they upheld their state’s 1912 ban on unions, corporations, and other special interests from using funds to influence political campaigns. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the state court’s decision and upheld their decision in Citizens United. This solidified the ruling and firmly applied it to federal and state elections.
2014 – McCutcheon v FEC: Overall donation limits removed. The Supreme Court sided with the Republican National Committee and mega-donor Shaun McCutcheon with a ruling that said putting caps on how much an individual can give in a single election cycle (candidates, PACs, and parties combined) restricted participation in the democratic process and violated people’s first amendment rights. Thus removing any limits to overall donations a person can give.
Since the introduction of big money into politics, politicians have stopped representing their constituents and started representing their donors. Every politician knows that outside of the Presidency, the candidate with the most amount of money wins their election over 90% of the time. Since corporations and billionaires can now legally provide unlimited sums of money to candidates, it’s easier for candidates to go after big money from the elites than to get it from average Americans.
It makes sense from the corporate and billionaire class as well. Take Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnet, as an example. Sheldon and his wife Miriam have given roughly $200 million dollars to the GOP over the past few years, including $20 million to a super PAC backing Trump’s campaign and $5 million toward his inaugural festivities. What do the Adelson’s get for their “donation”? The Adelson’s corporation reported a $700 million dollar tax windfall. Donate $200 million and get $700 million. That’s $400,000,000.00 they keep that would have otherwise gone to the government and into services normal Americans need. Quite a good investment if you’re the Adelsons. Oh and to cap it off, Miram Adelson was awarded the Medal of Freedom by Donald Trump which is the highest civilian award in the United States. That’s where we are. Billionaires can buy elections, get legislation passed that benefit them, and be are awarded medals from our President and it’s all 100% legal. Our system is BROKEN.
The Adelson’s aren’t an aberration. They are one of many. Huge mega-donors are rampant throughout the wealthy in this country. All hedging their bets and investing in your representatives. We need change and it starts by electing politicians that aren’t bought out by big moneyed interests. The only way to ensure this is by making sure whomever you vote for is not taking big corporate money, Super PAC money, and isn’t doing things like big money bundling fundraisers.
Eric is not taking big corporate money, Super PAC money, or doing big money bundling fundraisers. Our campaign is 100% grass roots funded from normal Americans like you, not the 1%.
What Eric Will Fight For
1. Pass a Constitutional Amendment that does two things:
Make it clear that money is not speech and corporations are not people. By doing so, we will overturn many of the Supreme Court’s disastrous rulings that says money is speech in Buckley v Valeo and corporations are people in Citizens United v. FEC.
Make it clear that we have the right to have clean and fair elections. By doing so, we prevent future court decisions that will undermine our elections and our democracy. It’ll also wave a way into a discussion as to what system we should have for campaign financing and mine is on the next point.
2. Pass legislation instituting a public financing system where each U.S. citizen will be given the same amount of money that they can allocate to whichever candidates they want per election. This money would be on a use it or lose it system where money not used will be put back into the system for the next election year. The allocated amount would be tied to inflation and adjusted annually.
3. Overhaul the Federal Election Campaign Act to give the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) more power and an explicit mandate to go after those whom break campaign finance violations.Members would have staggered 6 year terms and the chair would have a 10 year term to prevent any one president from picking all members.
Overhaul how the FEC is staffed to make it more non-partisan and create a rule that board members must have some sort of judicial or campaign finance law background.
Violations of campaign finance laws would be heard before an administrative law judge whom specializes in campaign finance laws and can impose civil and criminal penalties for violations.
4. Pass legislation that’ll end super PACs, political spending by 501(c)(4) nonprofits, and every other organization that can accept unlimited contributions or do not disclose donors.
5. Abolish the electoral system and move to a rank choice voting. By doing so, we will end a system that elects people with fewer votes and the voting for the lesser of two evils as we know it. It will also give lesser-known candidates, third party candidates, and independent candidates a better shot at winning which is good for a true representative democracy. For more information on ranked choice voting, click HERE.
6. Institute a lifetime ban on lobbying for former members of Congress, senior staffers, former Presidents, and cabinet members.