On April 3, Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.) spearheaded a panel on campaign finance issues prevalent since the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. The court’s decision allowed for unlimited and sometimes anonymous contributions to political action committees as long as they are unaffiliated with the campaign, thereby overturning a large portion of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. Dingell has introduced new legislation, known as The Restore Confidence in Our Democracy Act, to restore some campaign finance restrictions. Specifically, it will prohibit corporate spending in elections while subjecting political action committees to $5,000 contribution limits. Though this legislation won’t likely pass the House of Representatives, it’s extremely important that a member of Congress is recognizing the immense challenges of campaign finance.
Bills like Dingell’s warrant more support. In the 2012 election cycle, the country saw an unprecedented $6 billion spent on elections, with each presidential candidate pulling in nearly $1 billion. Probably the most infamous individual donor was casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, who pledged nearly $100 million of his own money to various Republicans, including Mitt Romney. This kind of disenfranchisement of the individual voter can’t be tolerated.
Even more frightening is the fact that some $400 million in “dark money”— money contributed anonymously — was spent throughout the campaign cycle. This comes out to be 37 percent of all independent expenditures. Major federal election reform is needed to stop this type of influence in politics, especially influence that’s seemingly untraceable. The Citizens United decision allowed non-profit corporations to keep vast amounts of money completely unreported, and the current trend is more and more money appearing as anonymous. Dingell’s legislation would force disclosure and transparency in elections while limiting the total money one person or organization could donate, bringing back at least some dignity to our election process.
When questioned about the possibility of a constitutional amendment to overturn the entirety of the Citizens United decision, Dingell explained that this was the best Congress could hope for at this time, saying “the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good.” Though a constitutional change is unlikely, the conversation can’t stop. In order to end the influence of money in politics, the United States must amend the Constitution and end corporate personhood. The rights of “corporations as people” has legally allowed for big businesses and extremely wealthy individuals to expand their reach far into government. This legal entitlement must be taken away, as it’s tantamount to the power over decision making that corporations hold.
If we want to truly restore confidence in our democracy, we must fully work to undue the effect of Citizen’s United through meaningful legislation.