I have a question for you:
The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America stipulates (in part) that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech”. Can that stipulation be reasonably interpreted to protect the right of individuals, interest groups, companies and action pacts to finance the election campaigns of the people running for elected public office?
Apparently that is possible, because that is exactly what the judicial system going up to the Supreme Court has sanctioned with only peripheral limitations.
The readers of my book ‘NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, A First Generation Immigrant in Search of American Exceptionalism’, are familiar with my belief that there are several serious flaws in the American system of public governance and the more I think about this, read about this, the more I come to the conclusion that the root cause of the flaws we encounter is in the influence that campaign donors exert over the political process and public policy making. The other flaws that I signal in my book are: the two party system; our election system (including terms of tenure and frequency of election); and the absence of a national strategy requirement. I now believe that the only reason why these latter three flaws are near impossible to address is that the vested interests who finance our politicians’ campaigns don’t want to see them changed. If there is complete gridlock these days in Washington DC, it is because that is what the moneymen who pull the financial strings want to see. And they are willing to spend big money to protect their perceived interest (about $4 billion just for the 2014 mid-term elections). We get exactly what the campaign donors were looking for when they wrote their large checks: nothing coming out of Congress: no tax reform, no tort reform, no education reform, no debt reduction, no gun control, no comprehensive immigration legislation, no infrastructure investments, no climate control measures, no Arctic development, nothing to enhance America’s global position, NOTHING!
Ideally, I would like to see complete public financing of election campaigns together with time limitations on the start and ending of political campaigns. As it is, America is near permanently in election mode. We just had mid-term elections in November of 2014 and here we are in the spring of 2015 and the airwaves are filled with buzz about the 2016 Presidential election. I am for a one term presidency of six years, enough time to allow any occupant of the White House to pursue his/her agenda and make a mark, especially if the term would not be interrupted by the need to go back on the campaign trail for a re-election.
For members of the House of Representatives I advocate terms of four years and a term limit of maximum three terms. For members of the Senate terms of six years like we have today but also a term limit of maximum three terms.
If our elected representatives would not have to worry about raising the money to finance their campaigns and if they would be seated for longer terms, they would gain precious time to do the work they are elected to do. As it is, they now start the day with a fundraising breakfast, leading into a fundraising lunch with fundraising calls made in between. And they finish the day with a fundraising dinner. When in such schedule is there time to do the People’s work?
More importantly, if our elected representatives would not have to worry about raising money to finance their campaigns, they would no longer be beholden to campaign donors who come into their office to lobby for or against legislative proposals being considered by Congress. Former Senator Alan Simpson said it best when he testified in a campaign-finance court case: “Who, after all, can seriously contend that a $100,000 donation does not alter the way one thinks about—and quite possibly votes on—an issue?” The money influence in politics has separated our politicians from their constituents by placing the moneymen in between, forcing our politicians to do the bidding of their campaign donors rather than their people.
For all these reasons, it is only fitting to ask the question again: Should the US Constitution protect the current system of private funding of election campaigns as an expression of the right to free speech or is Congress at liberty to do what already is the norm in almost all other Western democracies and limit both the duration and private financing of federal elections?
Unfortunately, that question is unlikely to get answered as long as the moneymen hold sway over Congress by paying the bills for the election and re-election of the representatives of the People. And, if Congress does not act, there is no chance that the Supreme Court would reverse its decision that throwing money at the campaigns of candidates for federal elections is an expression of the first amendment right to free speech.