Campaign finance is the fancy way of discussing the money involved in politics, specifically, political campaigns. A Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission states that, “corporations and unions have the same political speech rights as individuals under the First Amendment.” Many individuals feel as though this allows candidates to buddy up to corporations and Super PACs – a political action committee that can contribute an unlimited amount of money to national, state or local political parties and to other political action committees. Some people feel this discourages voting, and citizens sometimes feel their votes don’t count.
I know my vote counts. It’s not going to decide the fate of a presidential election such as in the movie “Swing Vote,” but my vote goes into a large pile to which I know I contributed. I’m not as confident with my political contributions, however. If I donated the maximum amount in any given election cycle for an individual, it pales in comparison to that of a Super PAC.
The overturn of Citizens United could help incentivize voting in the American electorate that has decreased in recent election cycles. If members of Congress and presidential candidates are only talking to organizations or PACs, this potentially deters voting. We want people to vote. But the most effective way to become involved in elections is to put your faith and political views in a few wealthy organizations. This, I cannot do.
The average cost of winning a seat in the House of Representatives is $1.1 million and the U.S. Senate is $10.5 million, according to Maplight – a nonprofit organization that tracks money in political campaigns. The average Joe cannot raise millions of dollars to run for a Congressional seat. This makes running for public office beyond challenging. It makes citizens feel Congress is perpetually occupied by people who already possess or have the ability to raise millions of dollars.
Congress shouldn’t be occupied only by people who play ball with large corporations and wealthy donors. In this game, they’ll have friends they made on the campaign trail. They will use these friends to win reelection, and winning reelection is of the utmost importance to nearly every elected official.
On the opposite side, Tom Osborne had name recognition and funds to win election on his own when he represented Nebraska’s third district in the House of Representatives for three terms. Osborne has since spoken about campaign finance, large contributions and Super PAC donations. In an Omaha World-Herald article, Osborne discussed his colleagues who quickly raised money for the next campaign as soon as they took their seats on Capitol Hill. “This consumes a large amount of their time that could be better spent in the legislative process and serving constituents,” Osborne said during a Friday conference call. Osborne has frequently criticized the campaign finance system and members focused on campaigning rather than serving people’s interests.
As a member of the House of Representatives, you spend nearly $1 million to win a two-year term. After you are elected, the next primary is less than a year and a half away. Therefore, members are constantly campaigning and bartering for money and votes. If the campaign finance system were reformed by limiting the amount of contributions from Super PACs, then citizens could play the vital role in their government, as originally intended.
The largest contribution one can give to our nation is to become an informed citizen – whether that is reading legislation, understanding the basics of our government or watching the C-Span. One of the most important things you can do as a voter is make an informed decision, not give your money away. Political campaign donations are important, but not as important as understanding the government and the role of government officials.
Mark Batt is a junior political science major. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org