Recent Supreme Court decisions have made it difficult for Congress, state legislatures and local governments to limit the amount of money spent in our political campaigns. A single wealthy donor or corporation can invest millions of dollars to elect or defeat candidates and effectively buy the attention of public officials. This shift in our political landscape means that the issues most citizens of this country care about do not elevate, while issues important to the wealthiest donors take center stage.
How did we get so far from 'we the people'?
In the 1976 case of Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court struck down a post-Watergate campaign finance reform that limited spending on elections. The justices said Congress can limit campaign contributions, but that spending limits are an unconstitutional restriction of the First Amendment right to free speech. The decision left wealthy individuals running for office free to spend as much as they wished on their campaigns. Then in 2010, the Court ruled in Citizens United v. FEC that corporations and labor groups may spend unlimited amounts on our elections, so long as it is independent of a candidate's campaign organization or a party's campaign accounts. Then,in Speechnow v. FEC, the US Court of Appeals cleared the way for creation of "Super PACs" by striking down limits on donations to groups that exclusively make independent expenditures in support or opposition to a candidate. Super PACs can spend whatever they like to support candidates, provided they don't officially coordinate their activities with the candidate's campaign organization, drowning out everyone else. The slow dismantling of our campaign finance system by the courts could start to back fire. After the recent McCutcheon v FEC decision where aggregate contribution limits were struck down (link to national McCutcheon page), there is more interest than ever in a constitutional amendment strategy for change. We expect a US Senate floor vote on an amendment in September 2014.