The Curious Case of Campaign Finance

Election Tracker | Jeff Melsheimer | February 11, 2016

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In 2010, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission fundamentally changed the way elections were held, specifically with regard to campaign finance. For those who don’t know, this monumental Supreme Court case lifted the limit on campaign contributions by equating donations to free speech protected by the First Amendment. In short, the case had the effect of allowing unlimited spending by corporations, unions, and individuals on elections.

Citizens United has paved the way for many candidates to receive prodigious amounts of donations. Take Jeb Bush’s absolutely monstrous Right to Rise Super PAC, which boasts over $100 million in contributions. Let’s unpack the twisted irony in all this:

First and foremost, Jeb Bush has been perhaps the biggest disappointment in modern politics. Once considered the front runner to snag the GOP nomination some nine months ago, Dubya‘s little brother has failed to live up to any and all expectations. What happened to the much anticipated Bush vs. Clinton 2016 battle for the presidency? Mediocrity happened. Jeb, despite having a decent political platform, quickly fell into irrelevancy as the larger-than-life personalities of Trump and Cruz engulfed him much like Chris Christie engulfing a Big Mac. Sorry Governor, I actually considered you to be one of the better candidates, but you have to admit you are slightly overweight.

I digress. The point is that Bush only received 2.8% of support at the Iowa Caucus despite spending more than any other Republican candidate. Hell, Bush finished behind Rand Paul who isn’t even in the race anymore.

Second, Bush has spent an estimated $20 million on attacking Marco Rubio. Bush was projected to crush his fellow Floridian as Rubio’s inexperience was a surefire way for Bush to dominate the primaries. In fact, many Republicans are criticizing Right to Rise for attacking Rubio far too much as opposed to endorsing Bush. Perhaps this is backfiring, as Rubio caucused at 23% in Iowa, a solid 20% above Bush. Albeit a surprise that Rubio’s performance exceeded expectations, Bush has failed to defeat the Senator despite raising roughly $75 million more.

Third and perhaps the most confusing fact in all of this is that Jeb Bush wants to reform campaign finance and reverse the Citizens United decision. While he doesn’t necessarily want to alter the unlimited amounts that can be donated, he does want more transparency and less anonymity in the process. This I can admire about Jeb.

On the other end of the campaign finance spectrum you have Bernie Sanders. He, too, calls for campaign finance reform, but on a much more extreme level. Should he be elected, the Senator from Vermont would effectively end the Citizens United decision and return to limits on campaign contributions coupled with increased transparency. According to his campaign’s website, Sanders has characterized the U.S. as an oligarchy run by a few billionaires who control the outcomes of elections.

Sanders claims to have no affiliation with any Super PAC’s, a contrast from the rest of the candidates, both Republican and Democrat, who all are supported by at least one. However, Bernie should be careful not to point fingers as he does receive a hefty amount of money from certain groups, such as over $1 million from National Nurses United. Now while this is transparent and is minuscule compared to some of his competitors, Bernie has never shied away from taking big money.

Furthermore, in the past Sanders has attended the very campaign fundraising events he has criticized. Back in 2007, Bernie attended a Democratic fundraiser at Martha’s Vineyard with many of the lobbyists he claims to loathe. Actually, Sanders was even a host of one of these “Majority Trust” events per year for the last five years. The self-proclaimed socialist and so-called reformer also attended a fundraising event in 2006 at an old Rockefeller mansion. Perhaps Bernie needs to stop censuring these ‘corrupt’ politicians and do some introspective meditation into his past and realize that he loves money just like the rest of ’em.

Those who condemn Citizens United certainly don’t complain when they receive millions in campaign donations. Comprehensive reform on campaign finance is certainly needed, and not being able to know where virtually unlimited amounts of money comes from should have no place into the electoral process. The precedent set by this case puts us onto a slippery slope to certain disaster, as a lack of accountability, the very issue democracy is concerned with, makes elections increasingly anti-democratic. But how can we expect any sort of change as politicians who claim to support reform are actually stuffing their pockets with millions in order to be elected into office?

Good question.