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The most expensive presidential election happened just last year with over $14.4 billion spent, more than double the total cost of the 2016 election. A fraction of the $14.4 billion was donated by average voters. However, the majority was given by billionaires and corporations writing large checks to Super Political Action Committees (PAC), large corporations, interest groups, and associations that provide pools of funds. Super PACs raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations, associations, individuals, and constituents.
Wealthy donors expand their political power by donating unprecedented sums of money to elections. For example, non-party independent groups can donate an unlimited amount to their preferred candidates, leading to over $4.5 billion donated over the decade, while the 10 most generous donors and their spouses injected $1.2 billion into federal elections. These contributions shift elections in favor of candidates with the most funding. For seats in the House of Representatives, more than 90 percent of candidates who spend the most win. While there was only one election cycle in which that did not hold true, the 2010 election, 86 percent of the top spending candidates won, still a shockingly large percentage. These statistics display the scope of the control large corporations and millionaires have over American democracy and political campaigns.
Big money in politics has disrupted the fundamental relationship between Americans and their elected officials. Public servants and elected officials should be serving America's best interests. Instead, politicians often vote in a way that favors a specific demographic group or business to ensure they receive large amounts of campaign donations. For example, in 2018, wealthy donors Sheldon Adelson and Miriam Adelson gave $122 million to Super PACs that supported Republican candidates. In the previous four election cycles, they donated close to $300 million to pro-Trump and pro-Republican Super PACs. As a result, they were able to persuade Trump and his administration to promote their casino project and curb online gambling that competed with their interests. Additionally, mega-donor Bob Murray donated $1 million to Trump’s Super PAC. His list of policy wishes was soon incorporated into Trump’s “To-Do List.” Lastly, Doug Deason made Republicans seeking campaign donations aware that if they did not repeal the Affordable Care Act and pass major tax cuts, he would not donate any money in 2017. The Republican Party passed one of the largest tax cut bills in history, appealing to the interests of donors like Deason. In the following 60 days, millionaires and billionaires dramatically increased their political donations, giving a total of $31.1 million in just two months. The values and interests of the richest one percent differ from those of ordinary Americans, who disagree on many pressing issues such as taxes, education, and unemployment. These policies increasingly benefit the wealthy and harm the poor.
It certainly does not help that in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United, which reversed campaign finance restrictions and allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. Prior to this case, Citizens United, a right-leaning non-profit organization, wanted to air a film criticizing former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. This release would have been a violation of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which banned any organization or corporation from funding an “electioneering communication” within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election. Citizens United argued that this law was unconstitutional and violated the First Amendment. The ruling heavily increased the amount of political spending from outside groups, allowing large donations to dominate the U.S.’s political campaigns and drown out the voices of ordinary American voters.
To fight big money, campaign finance laws and rules must be enforced to ensure political campaigns have integrity. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) should institute reforms so it is no longer gridlocked due to partisan split and can finally serve its true purpose of enforcing and regulating money in politics. The FEC has not been able to perform all of its duties, including enforcement, regulations, and audits, and has failed to provide candidates and parties with guidance regarding legal obligations and investigate allegations of legal violations. A better functioning FEC would allow for greater transparency in political advertising and decrease unlimited political spending by large corporations and millionaires. Legislation that requires the disclosure of all political spending should be passed to increase transparency in who is trying to control elections through large political donations. Lastly, Congress should pass bills aimed to prevent coordinated activity between PACs and political candidates. Closing these fundraising loopholes would ensure that elections are not controlled by top donors.
Fair elections are a fundamental part of democracy, and they should not be bought by the rich and powerful. Certain interests should not have less representation because of donations from the top one percent. Big money in politics has resulted in a government that does not truly work for Americans anymore, and this issue must be addressed to successfully confront all of its detrimental effects.