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Another campaign finance solution struck down by the courts

June 9, 2010

I’m not sure what the long-term solution to campaign finance will be, but certainly the system that we currently have isn’t working.

Candidates are more focused on finance than substance, and the race is one to see who can afford the most TV ads. Those ads seem to offer either a disingenuous portrait of an opponent, or a pithy profile of the candidate itself.

To help rein in the out-of-control cost of campaigns, and the influence that big-dollar donors seem to carry, states such as Arizona have enacted public campaign financing systems. The idea is that candidates should more beholden to their constituents than the people who contribute to their campaigns. Public financing is also designed to help give candidates without fewer personal financial resources a better shot against those with seemingly bottomless bank accounts.

But the debate over campaign finance has increasingly equated money with free speech, and argued that restricting the amount of money a candidate or group can spend on a campaign is essentially quieting their voice. In my opinion, the opposite is true – those with funding have their voices and their influence so amplified by their finances that is drowns out the voices of those without.

Following its ruling in the Citizens United case that opened up direct campaign activity to corporations, labor unions and other groups, the Supreme Court has now struck down a public campaign finance law in Arizona. As the New York Times notes in today’s editorial, the decision comes in the middle of a campaign season, and leaves candidates who had been counting on that system in a bind.

From the editorial

In a burst of judicial activism, the Supreme Court on Tuesday upended the gubernatorial race in Arizona, cutting off matching funds to candidates participating in the state’s public campaign finance system. Suddenly, three candidates, including Gov. Jan Brewer, can no longer receive public funds they had counted on to run against a free-spending wealthy opponent. …

It seems likely that the Roberts court will use this case to continue its destruction of the laws and systems set up in recent decades to reduce the influence of big money in politics. By the time it is finished, millionaires and corporations will have regained an enormous voice in American politics, at the expense of candidates who have to raise money the old-fashioned way and, ultimately, at the expense of voters.

I’m not as familiar with the details of the Arizona law, but am in favor of creating some system that reduces the influence of money on the electoral process. What we now rely on leaves too many qualified candidates sitting out important races, and favors those with deep pockets, or with friends and associates with deep pockets. Too much campaigning is now tied up with raising and spending money, rather than crafting a platform and offering it to voters.

With the system we have now, it’s far easier to spend thousands on a TV ad smearing your opponent than it is to sell yourself to voters.



One Comment
  1. June 10, 2010 5:12 am

    “Pay to play” electioneering is corrupting our democracy or at the very least, it insulates our leaders from hearing the voice of working class families.

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