According to a new analysis from the Associated Press, 60 campaign donations account for around a third of the total fundraising in the 2016 presidential campaign. Donors who gave more than $100,000 account for approximately half of the total money. And anyone who is concerned about how this affects out democracy can only look with dismay at these figures.
These are, of course, the ramifications of reduced campaign regulations. The Citizens United decision set the stage for Super PACs to form, removing traditional restrictions from campaign donations. Now donors are able to give until it hurts, shifting the political landscape in ways that are not yet completely obvious. It makes for an easy target, and Hillary Clinton has already made it clear that it will be part of her campaign platform.
“We have never seen an election like this, in which the wealthiest people in America are dominating the financing of the presidential election and as a consequence are creating enormous debts and obligations from the candidates who are receiving this financial support,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21.
Unfortunately, this is a problem we’re stuck with unless we want to take a hatchet to the First Amendment. Democrats claims that there is a difference between money and speech, but that’s a hard pill to swallow. Where do you draw the line?
Furthermore, it’s not clear this is the problem some make it out to be. It’s unsettling, to be sure. But is it really thwarting democracy? Some say it’s actually having the opposite effect. In a landscape where a handful of major corporations control almost every facet of the media, speech is already limited by the size of your soapbox. The internet has leveled this to some degree, but money does the job better. If it weren’t for Super PACs, it would be much harder for unknown candidates to get their foot in the door.
Then there is the naive belief that something fundamental changed with the Citizens United decision. As if our political landscape was not already dominated by big money. As if corporations looking for influence were unable to get their fingers into Washington D.C. before the ruling. It’s a joke, and only those born yesterday would possibly believe such a thing. At least now, it’s a little more out in the open.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how much money gets poured into our election system. The voters decide in the end. And as long as that remains the case, our democracy will stay viable and powerful.
What would really kill that democracy? If we increase the size of government, the power of the presidency, and the regulation of our elections to the point where tyranny can take root. Money is the great equalizer, in many ways. Citizen’s groups can form their own Super PACs and start a movement. If the government decides to hinder free speech, that option goes away.