President Obama is nearing the end of his term, and accordingly the media is filled with campaigning for the upcoming race in 2016. On the daily, we see millions of dollars spent in advertisements on the current prospective candidates. The Los Angeles Times calculated astonishing numbers being spent for the 2012 election, “A total of 266 super PACs [or Political Action Committees] have spent $546.5 million — seventy-eight percent of which has been spent opposing candidates.” [ref]”Super PAC Spending,” LA Times, accessed August 18, 2015[/ref] This statistic is alarming to say the least. 266 entities basically influence the entire American public. Their opinion weighs heaviest, skewing which candidates are showcased on major media outlets – how often we see who, during what time of the day, and in what context. Further, seventy-eight percent of the money being spent is toward negative advertising. Prior to the 2010 ruling, corporations were forbidden from spending on negative campaigning. The 2016 race can bring unparalleled numbers, and this time around, the only adjustment isn’t inflation. The vendetta then, is determining the extent of influence by PACs while maintaining our democracy.
For the 2008 campaign, certain laws set forth by the Federal Election Campaign Act were being practiced that limit the amount and type of contributions candidates can receive. The Act spearheaded the FEC (Federal Election Commission), through the monitoring of public funding for presidential candidates. The Citizens United vs. FEC ruling, announced in 2010, is a constitutional law that changes the way campaigns can advertise. The doors are now open for unlimited financing from corporations and unions directly towards political activities. The ruling categorizes political activities as an asset of free speech, protected under the First Amendment.[ref]”The ‘Citizens United’ Decision and Why It Matters,” Center for Public Integrity, October 18, 2012, accessed August 19, 2015, http://www.publicintegrity.org/2012/10/18/11527/citizens-united-decision-and-why-it-matters. [/ref] The ruling, in turn, has set precedent for super PACs to flourish. Super PACs are the supersized version of regular PACs. The doors are open for Super PACs to accumulate unlimited funds from unions, individuals, corporations, and associations. The money can be spent to campaign for a candidate or against. The Super PAC is forbidden from directly giving money to the candidate and must report all spending to the FEC, but other than that is free to pour ridiculous amounts of money into campaigning.
Super PACs have become insurmountable. The money spent has divided the elite from regular citizens, weighting their opinions and political preferences much heavier and much more influential. Policies must be set forward that equalize the opinions of the American public. Organizations like Get Money Out, The Anti – Corruption Act, Wolf PAC, and many more are fighting to overturn the Citizens United vs. FEC ruling and to minimize big money’s influence.
What can be done to curb the influence of Super PACs? The Government by the People Act is a bill that pushes for equality in influence. The Act gives monetary incentives to citizens for voting, and matches small amounts of donations. By bolstering the voice of the average citizen, the Act looks to push out dark money and big money donations. In addition, the issue of campaign financing requires immediate mass attention. It is important to know who is putting forth our candidates, and what is the motive behind the financing. As a nation of citizens, it is our responsibility to vote in accordance with the nation’s well being. Deciphering campaign finance is difficult, as our federal laws are difficult to understand and lined with loopholes.
It’s difficult to imagine how far and deep the Citizens United vs. FEC ruling can affect the 2016 campaign. Candidates like Bernie Sanders have come out opposing the act, hoping to get big money out of politics. Sanders has even gone as far as rejecting corporate contributions, setting precedent for a clean political race. The issue of campaign finance should be an important platform for the race.
To support the separation of corporate money and politics, sign the petition to overturn the Citizens United vs. FEC at “Democracy is for People” organization.