Sen. Alexander's Solution: Throw Gas on the Fire
Recently, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) proposed eliminating limits on contributions to political candidates as the solution to the current campaign finance mess. He says unlimited contributions to candidates won't further empower the wealthy; they will just create more political speech. And he said this with a straight face!
Sen. Alexander said that if Congress eliminated the limits on contributions to candidates, there would be no need to worry about large contributions to outside groups taking over our elections and as they would become minor players in our elections.
The Supreme Court has recognized that large contributions to candidates and parties can corrupt and create the appearance of corruption. Because they can reduce public confidence in our democratic process, the Court said Congress can limit the size of such contributions. By contrast, the Court naively proclaimed in Citizens United that unlimited money spent "independently" of candidates does not corrupt candidates. Senator Alexander points to that same unlimited outside spending to justify elimination of limits that undoubtedly prevent corruption.
Our politicians are desperate for money to pay for their campaign expenses. Hiring staff, paying for travel, and especially running television ads cost a lot of money. Unless a politician is independently wealthy, the money for these activities needs to come from somewhere.
Politicians turn to donors who have a mixture of motives. A donor may support the politician's policies. Or, the donor may want to ensure access in order to influence the politician's thinking and actions. This "access and influence" motivation drives much of the money given by K Street lobbyists and their clients.
Power attracts money, and money in politics curries favor. Unlimited money in our elections is already distorting our political discourse and affecting the outcome of elections.
Saying that Super PACs will fade away if candidate contributions limits are lifted defies common sense. With limits lifted, wealthy funders will give to a candidate, and also to his or her Super PAC to do a campaign's dirty work, allowing the candidate to run the positive campaign.
Lifting the limits will do nothing to stop the secret money being funneled to the 501(c)(4) "shadow Super PACs" - groups that claim they are "social welfare" organizations but in truth are working hard to dictate winners and losers on Election Day through massive ad buys. Current law allows these "shadow Super PACs" to keep their donors hidden, so corporations and wealthy individuals can evade disclosure if they are concerned about possible blowback from stockholders or the public.
Secret money is dangerous money in politics. Current rules and regulations are inadequate to ensure its disclosure.
Allowing unlimited amounts of money to be given to candidates will NOT result in better government. Sen. Alexander, who voted against disclosure legislation, is offering a "logic" that runs contrary to common sense. Proposals to further empower the wealthiest in our society moves us toward a plutocracy and away from our nation's founding democratic ideals. It's important to reveal who is trying to buy our elections, not expedite their efforts.