$2 Billion Election Threatens to Disenfranchise Voters

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It has been common knowledge that the Obama campaign’s spending could reach $1 billion in 2012, and a recently released memo shows that Mitt Romney hopes to do the same. That kind of money is hard to come by through small donations, leaving the candidates to court large donors and special interests to fill their coffers. With this huge amount of money floating around, the power to choose our next president lies disproportionately in the hands of donors rather than voters.

This spending was a problem in the past, but it has only been amplified by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. Both Romney and Obama have authorized Super PACs to raise funds on their behalf. While the money raised directly by the candidates has limits and transparency attached to it, Super PAC money is unlimited and can be largely anonymous. The donations made so far by billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife have exemplified how distorted the fundraising system has become. The Adelsons gave $10 million to Newt Gingrich’s Super PAC, and recently donated another $5 million to a Super PAC supporting House Republicans. To match Adelson’s funds under normal campaign finance laws you would need 3,000 couples to give the maximum $5,000 contribution, which is an amount few can afford.

Voters still determine the ultimate outcome of the election, but history has shown that voters are highly influenced by spending. Mitt Romney’s popularity has waned at many times during the primary, but by outspending his opponents by wide margins he maintained his advantage and now seems a sure bet for the Republican nomination. Publicly financed elections would be the best scenario we could hope for, but even overturning Citizens United would be a big step in returning the power to voters.

Numerous constitutional amendments have been introduced to overturn this misguided ruling, but none has yet gained any traction. Concern is growing across the country about the unbridled political spending that has resulted, and many municipalities have passed their own non-binding resolutions supporting a constitutional amendment. It is unlikely that any movement will happen on this issue in time to influence this presidential election, but it is only a matter of time before the American people grow tired of corporate-backed candidates and demand better choices. These better choices will be impossible until the money in politics situation is fixed.

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