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Democrats and Republicans Agree: Campaign Finance Needs Reform

Grant Whittington headshotWords by Grant Whittington
Leadership & Transparency
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With the 2016 election approaching, spending records are poised to be shattered once again by the prospective Democratic and Republican nominees. A recent poll issued by the New York Times found that Americans of both major parties agree that measures should be taken to restrict the influence of wealthy donors in such important races.

This comes five years after the infamous Citizens United v. FCC decision that essentially gave companies and unions a pass to spend unlimited amounts of money on ads and other political tools, allowing these entities to either advocate or bash candidates, thus impacting elections greatly. Although companies are still banned from donating however much they want to any particular individual running for office, they are allowed to create super PACs that fundraise for ads supporting whoever they deem worthy.

The Citizens United ruling has since drawn a lot of controversy, leaving the public upset about the unregulated money being spent on campaigns and certain politicians upset that these races are influenced from large companies and not the values of the politician.

Republican leaders in Congress are working to block legislation that requires the disclosure of the “dark money” that siphons into these super PACs. According to the poll, a wide majority of Republican voters favor an overhaul of how political campaigns fundraise.

The chair of the Federal Election Commission, the group responsible for overseeing corruption costs coming from campaigns, said the agency is “worse than dysfunctional” and ultimately is powerless to halt any missteps in the 2016 campaign. More than half of America shared the FEC’s reluctance and doubt in the survey.

While Democratic candidates are pushing for campaign finance reform, they also understand its importance in the role of getting elected as the leader of the free world. The leading super PAC supporting former U.S. Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton hopes to raise twice as much as Democratic groups contributed to President Barack Obama in his re-election campaign.

The 2016 election will likely go down in history, much like the campaigns in 2012, 2008, 2004 and so on, for being the most expensive election to date. The Hill estimated $2.6 billion was spent on the 2012 election. Obama spent $683 million while the Democratic Party propelled him to victory behind outside groups’ $1.1 billion, according to FEC filings. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney spent $433 million with outside groups contributing $1.24 billion for his campaign trail.

And, believe it or not, the price tag is expected to be even bigger for next year’s election. The Hill reported that, according to top fundraisers, the 2016 election could reach as much as $5 billion. With 14 players already throwing their hats in the ring -- four Democrats and 10 Republicans -- super PACs and individual donors are busier than ever trying to deliver support to their chosen nominee. The 10 Republicans officially bidding for president doesn’t include two top fundraising moguls, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who have both hinted at a run for office while piling up money on the side.

Forty-six percent of respondents to the New York Times poll said the United States needs to “completely rebuild” the way political campaigns are funded. In opposition, just 13 percent said only minor changes are needed. The wealthiest Americans have the largest political say because of their spending powers, but the citizens of both affiliations are fed up with being misrepresented by powerhouse companies.

More than 4 in 5 Americans say money plays too large a role in political campaigns, the poll revealed. Campaign finance reform won’t happen overnight, but public outcry could hasten the process as the 2016 presidential race catches fire.

Image credit: Flickr/nshepard

Grant Whittington headshotGrant Whittington

Based in Washington, DC, Grant works as a program assistant at SEEP Network, an international development nonprofit. A proud graduate of the University of Maryland, Grant spent four months post-grad living in Armenia where he worked for Habitat for Humanity and the World Food Programme. Grant is passionate about humanitarianism and finding sustainable approaches to international development. He enjoys playing trivia with friends but is still seeking his first victory - he ceaselessly blames his friends lack of preparation.

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