Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
January 17, 2022

Let's stop bankrolling elections in America

By KAUSHIK RAO | February 22, 2012

In 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States made a fateful decision with countless ramnifications. In the lawsuit between Citizens United and the Federal Electoral Commission, the Supreme Court declared Citizens United victorious and effectively allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money towards political contributions. This decision by the Supreme Court drew scathing criticisms from countless political watch dog organizations which characterized the ruling as the beginning of the end of democracy in America.
This ruling essentially ended the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform and opened the way for the rise of super political action committees more commonly referred to as "super PACs." Originally, the limit on an individual's campaign contribution was $2500, but the new Supreme Court decision now allows these super PACs to receive unlimited sums of campaign donations. Therefore, a wealthy individual or corporation can single-handedly bankroll a candidate's campaign. We have seen this throughout the Republican primaries in which each candidate has a corresponding super PAC that spends vast amounts of money on behalf of that candidate.
The problem with allowing individuals and corporations the ability to contribute an unlimited sum of money to one candidate is that it inherently dilutes the voice of the majority of the American electorate. Unlimited spending in campaign contributions allows special interests to dominate elections. A candidate who receives a $1 million donation from a corporation is going to be more inclined to look after the interests of that particular corporation rather than his constituents. The average voter cannot afford to donate anywhere near as much money to a candidate than a corporation can and this leads to the lack of representation of the people in the U.S. government. At this point, politicians and elected officials are essentially "bought" by special interests. By allowing these unlimited amounts of campaign contributions, we are depriving the average voter of his proportionate voice and influence in the government. And this has already led to the disenchantment of many voters who don't believe they have much political efficacy to effect change in government.
To make our democracy better and to fix this issue, we need to institute substantial campaign finance reform on the amount of influence that corporations have on elections. The consensus that needs to be reached is that corporations do not have rights like individuals. Therefore, the notion of corporate personhood should be rejected. A corporation is not, nor has it ever been, a person with voting rights. Yet, at the same time, we are offering them rights that are guaranteed to people. The very idea that corporations can now channel their immense wealth to advocate directly for or against a federal candidate is detrimental to our democracy.
Furthermore, there is a compelling state interest to restrict corporate spending in elections. It would level the playing field for all candidates and it would make it tougher for a candidate to win an election just because he has a lot of money. I understand that money is going to end up being an integral part of elections. But I believe that the source of this money should come from people donating to campaigns rather than corporations throwing money at candidates. People have a constitutional right to give those funds and campaign finance reform gives the individual donor a voice more comparable to other interest groups which have always had a disproportionate amount of influence in politics.
It is imperative that we as a society push for campaign finance reform because it would advance the objectives of a broader marketplace of ideas and of free speech, assembly, and thought. It would reduce corruption in government by discouraging candidates from "selling themselves" to special interests bidding for their votes. If we as Americans really want to better our democracy, then campaign finance reform needs to be our first legislative step.

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