Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

The one issue where Republicans and Democrats agree

When is the last time you read an article that concluded with Republicans and Democrats uniting over a common cause? A new Pew study finds there is one thing the two parties can get behind: campaign finance reform.

When is the last time you read an article that concluded with Republicans and Democrats uniting over a common cause? A new Pew study finds there is one thing the two parties can get behind: campaign finance reform.

More money, more influence

The 2016 campaign is on pace to break records for campaign spending — and we haven't even reached 2016. We've discussed the dangers of the 1 percent of the 1 percent's influence, the proliferation of "bring-your-own-billionaire" elections and now we're seeing voters make a big deal over big donors.

Key findings include:

  1. 76 percent of respondents (including identical shares of Republicans and Democrats) say money has a greater role in politics than in the past.

  2. 84 percent of Democrats and 72 percent and Republicans favor limiting the amount of money individuals and organizations can spend on campaigns and issues.

While noteworthy for the bipartisan support, any issue receiving three-fourths consensus is a core issue to the electorate. Lawmakers should take note as voters will make this a priority in the next election.

  1. Only 19 percent say elected officials in Washington try hard to stay in touch with voters back home and 77 percent say elected officials lose touch with their constituents.

  2. 16 percent say the influence of special interest money on elected officials tops the list of named problems. Another 11 percent see elected officials as dishonest or as liars.

Weary voters have been looking outside of party lines since the Tea Party movement in 2010.

Many are tired of establishment candidates and look elsewhere for change, prompting candidates to reconsider their party as well. This coincides with the rise of anti-establishment candidates for the 2016 presidential election. Those who distance themselves from super PACs (i.e. Bernie Sanders refusing to affiliate with a super PAC and Donald Trump's "self-funding" campaign) could be climbing the polls and gaining voter trust because of their perceived independence.

Political climate change

Today's political climate of super PACs is relatively new. In 2010, the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC upheld that the First Amendment protected free speech in the form of political donations from corporations and other entities. The same year, v. FECallowed for increased PAC spending by prohibiting the FEC from enforcing contribution limits to independent groups. While Citizens United challenged the spending limit for certain entities, focused on federal fundraising caps.

These court rulings paved the way for the rise of super PACs and new forms of political spending.

In the first post-Citizens United presidential election in 2012, we saw more than twice the political spending as any previous election and independent political spending from super PACs and other organizations directly accounted for the increase, according to Reclaim Democracy.

  1. Just 20 percent say that individuals and organizations should be able to spend freely on campaigns.

This is in contrast with the Citizens United decision and a recent Bloomberg poll reiterates the same point: 78 percent of respondents said Citizens United should be overturned.

"Citizens United has become a symbol for what people perceive to be a much larger problem, which is the undue influence of wealth in politics," University of Chicago law professor David Strauss recently told Bloomberg.

Time for transparency

According to a poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, both sides of the aisle call for more transparency with donors.

  1. 78 percent of Democrats and Republicans alike favor a requirement that donor names be made public.

  2. 87 percent think full disclosure would be at least somewhat effective at reducing the influence of money in politics.

While early polls indicate that money can't buy you love (or votes), a candidate's cash indicates the entities lobbying for their support.

  1. More than half said they knew little to nothing at all in regards to campaign finance.

Nonprofits have limitations on the amount of money they can spend, they enjoy discounted ad buys on television and they do not have to disclose donors. To compare and contrast the rules for super PACs, LLCs and other entities would make the average voter's head spin. Transparency could be a first step in informing the electorate of the money exchange between lawmakers and lobbyists.

Barrier to entry?

When do campaigns begin? The short answer is never, or from the start, because the second they set foot into office lawmakers fundraise on a daily basis. If public officials turn a blind eye to donors, they may get left behind and watch as rivals rake in the cash.

Half of all presidential funds are donated by 158 families and the companies they control, according to The New York Times.

  1. 64 percent say that the high cost of running a presidential campaign discourages many good candidates from running.

  2. 62 percent (including a majority in both parties) say that new laws would be effective in limiting the role of money in politics.

Notably, Americans believe something can be done about campaign finance reform. Whether overturning Citizens United, creating a constitutional amendment, or legislating other laws, voters don't feel that campaign finance is a lost cause. We want the best candidates possibly for elected office. There shouldn't be a barrier to entry for the other 99 percent or those backed by billionaires.

If it's a priority for voters, it should be a priority to politicians. Citizens deserve to know where candidates running for federal office stand on these six fundamental questions on money in politics.

The crux of democracy lies in giving a fair share of the electoral process to every individual. Everyone is entitled to one vote, but with a sliver of the population spending so much money on candidates, the pay-for-play system is becoming more evident; maybe that will serve as a catalyst to fix it.

The Sunlight Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency, and provides new tools and resources for media and citizens, alike. A list of Sunlight's funders can be found here.