By Elijah Black
Over time, the cost of political campaigns has increased. This is partly because the length of campaign cycles has grown, allowing candidates the opportunity to make more impressions on potential voters. As spending increases, the way campaigns are funded is changing, too – and not necessarily for the better.
Several recent Supreme Court rulings have deregulated the campaign funding process and consequently driven more money into elections. Most notably, Citizens United v the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) and SpeechNOW.org v. FEC have prohibited the government from restricting the independent political expenditures of corporations, both for-profit and non-profit. These rulings include the right to electioneering communications, or advertisements, which can be broadcast up until the day of an election.
While these funds cannot legally be given directly to campaigns, some, such as former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, believe large donations are still equivalent to buying access to candidates. Of course, rules exist to help avoid corruption; however, loopholes exist to help donors evade full disclosure, which include donor reports that can be scheduled to come out after the election is over. Additionally, this influx of limitless, indirect funding is now impacting state and local elections, which are subject to less regulation and less competition.
While corporations have been given greater political power, the rights of actual voters have been diminished. The Supreme Court struck down a key component of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which dictated nine states and myriad other municipalities around the country to require advance federal approval to change voting laws. The restriction was based on a history of racial discrimination in those areas. The voting laws that the policy was trying to prevent, including limits on early voting, movement of polling places and racially-charged gerrymandering, are designed to either keep minorities from voting or to negate the impact of their votes.
As we head into the 2016 election cycle, well before we head into 2016, local government leaders should act now to combat these changes. Reach out to your voters early. Form non-partisan classes that encourage your citizens to do their own political research rather than listening to advertisements. Create a resolution, as many states and municipalities have done, that asks for the Citizens United ruling to be overturned with a constitutional amendment. Enact strict and timely donor disclosure rules. Fight policies that hinder voter turnout in your municipality, and educate affected people about voting law changes ahead of time.
The voice of the people is being drowned out by the seemingly unending drone of the political campaign machine. We must speak together, and we must be as loud as it is. Who’s better suited to make that call than our local leaders?