Guest Commentary: Why Both Parties Should Favor Campaign Spending Limits

April 13, 2012
By

 

GORDON: Campaign spending has increased at five and a half times the rate of inflation since the 1980 Presidential election

Insiders in both major political parties tend to be against limits on campaign contributions and spending, with Republicans slightly more opposed to limits than Democrats.

But the key word in the previous sentence is “insiders.”  Most of the actual people in this country, from whatever party, oppose the extent to which our political process has become dominated by wealthy individuals or interests. 

In a poll taken shortly after the decision in Citizens United, which allowed unlimited campaign spending by corporations, unions and other interest groups, 76% of Republicans, 81% of Independents and 85% of Democrats opposed the decision

In a Gallup poll taken in June of 2011, the following question was asked.

Which of the following statements do you agree with more?

  1.  Elected officials in Washington are mostly influenced by what is in the best interest of the country.
  2. Elected officials in Washington are mostly influenced by the pressure they receive on issues from major campaign contributors.

81% of Democrats, 87% of Independents and 88% of Republicans selected the second option.  These results indicate a large and consistent cynicism across the political spectrum, and the poll was done before all of this year’s Superpac activity.

Unlimited campaign spending by self-interested entities is an affront to traditional American values and should present a problem for both ends of the political spectrum.

An American patriot of 1776 would certainly have identified freedom as a founding value, freedom from the oppression of King George III.  That same patriot would have felt a commitment to equality.  The Declaration of Independence proclaimed that a “self evident truth” was “that all men are created equal.”

Our forefathers carved a life out of the American wild where merit counted, where it didn’t matter who your father was or how wealthy or connected he was.  They believed that each person should have an equal opportunity to succeed or fail on their own merits.

Is the freedom to contribute millions of dollars to a Superpac to run negative ads against a political opponent the kind of freedom that the Revolutionary War patriots fought for?  The answer is “no.” The first Americans opposed the privilege of wealth, birth and class.  The Supreme Court’s decisions equating money and speech and giving human rights to corporations and unions, decisions which advantage wealth, are a perversion of the spirit of human rights and the goals of the early patriots.

In the 1980 election between Carter and Reagan, $92 million was spent.  If election spending had increased at the rate of inflation, the 2008 election would have seen $240 million in spending.  The actual number was over $1.3 billion.  Spending increased at five and a half times the rate of inflation.  Currently pundits are exclaiming because it looks as though in 2012 we will see the first single campaign to exceed $1 billion, but at current trends, many of the readers of these words will see a $1 trillion campaign.  What is going to stop it?

The poll above confirms that Americans have already become cynical about government working for them.  CleanSlateNow.org proposes that citizens support candidates who agree not to accept special interest PAC contributions.  It encourages voters to use their electoral power to support candidates who are more likely to represent them.  It is the way a democratic process is supposed to work.

In light of the exponential increase in campaign spending, the increase in voter cynicism, the bending of policy towards wealth, and the undermining of the moral basis for our government, is there someone who would like to argue that they are satisfied with the status quo, or that there should be even fewer limits on the power of wealth to influence political outcomes?

Ken Gordon is a former Majority Leader of the Colorado Senate and the director of CleanSlateNow.org, a non-profit which supports candidates who do not take PAC contributions

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