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Campaigns may rake up even more money under new rules

POSTED: April 12, 2014 11:16 p.m.

A recent Supreme Court ruling allows individuals to donate to any number of federal candidates they want and promises to pour millions more dollars into an election system already swamped in money. 

Consider the 2012 presidential election. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney spent nearly $1 billion each trying to secure the White House. 

And spending by super PACs, which are ostensibly prohibited from giving directly to campaigns or parties, adds hundreds of millions of dollars more to this total. 

Meanwhile, just $343 million was spent by presidential candidates in the 2000 election. 

While keeping in place a cap on the amount of money an individual can give to a single political candidate, the Supreme Court ruling removes a $123,200 aggregate limit on giving directly to campaigns and parties. 

And coupled with the Citizens United ruling in 2010, which freed corporations, unions and other groups to support or oppose candidates by spending lavishly on television advertisements and other influence, the Supreme Court in recent years has stripped what little remains of the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act. 

Named after its lead sponsors, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., the law established strict regulations and caps on financing political campaigns and parties.

“Money in politics is kind of like water,” said Charles Bullock, political science professor at the University of Georgia. “It’s going to find its way in.” 

The consequences it may have for the integrity of America’s elections has become a matter of spirited debate, with Republicans championing the cause as a free speech issue and Democrats bemoaning the potential for corruption. 

“I am pleased that the Supreme Court recognized that the First Amendment of the Constitution gives individual citizens the right to determine how many political candidates and causes they may choose to support,” said U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. 

Democrats, while just as likely to take advantage of the new ruling as their Republican counterparts, have publicly frowned on the prospect of more money creeping into the election process. They say it poses the potential for bribery and corruption. 

David Vogel, Democratic candidate for Georgia’s U.S. House 9th District race, said he believes dismantling campaign finance laws has put a price tag on political speech, affordable only for the richest 1 percent and Fortune 500 companies. 

“You’re looking at a time in the not very distant future when the only political debate in the United States will be a debate between corporations,” Vogel said. “There’s a word for that in the English language.” 

Bullock, however, isn’t so sure that’s the ultimate outcome. 

“It seems to me, at least, that (the ruling) undoes some of the mischief of McCain-Feingold,” he said. 

Bullock said he thinks the ruling may make elections more competitive by giving upstarts and challengers the opportunity to raise as much money as incumbents. 

Moreover, he said funneling more money directly to candidates and political parties might reel in the outsized influence super PACs and other independent groups, who are not required to disclose their donors, have in elections. 

“The harshest ads now get run not by candidates ... but by these super PACs,” Bullock said. 

For some candidates seeking federal office, the ruling doesn’t go far enough. 

Amanda Swafford, a former member of the Flowery Branch City Council and the Libertarian Party of Georgia’s nominee for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat, said she feels this way. 

“Taking away someone’s freedom to give a higher dollar amount to an individual candidate also controls the number of viable candidates who can participate in the process,” she said. “By forcing smaller, grassroots candidates to spend more time raising funds from a larger number of donors, those candidates that don’t work through a traditional political party structure or who might want to challenge that structure are at a disadvantage.” 

Vogel, meanwhile, advocates for public financing of elections, wherein strict caps are placed on taxpayer-funded campaigns. 

“I don’t see any other possible solution with the amount of money that’s in politics these days,” he said.


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