Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that a single contributor is no longer capped on how many candidates and party committees he or she can give to in a given election cycle. In effect, the court ruled that some of the Watergate-era limits on campaign contributions are unconstitutional.
This ruling has reignited the never-ending debate over campaign finance reform. To simplify: the right to free speech vs political equality. Free speech advocates praise the McCutcheon ruling, while those in favor of contribution limits fear that it will increase the alleged corruptive effects of campaign donations and influence of wealthy contributors on the political process.
How will McCutcheon affect the 2014 elections?
“McCutcheon will probably benefit Republicans more than Democrats,”
Writes Lee Drutman for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage. “It will further empower [a] small set of elite donors who have the means and the motive to play an even more important role in the setting of agendas, positions and candidates.”
In other words, the decision gives those few people with the most money the loudest voice in politics… i.e. the Koch Brothers, as Drutman would say.
“McCutcheon could come back to haunt the Republican Party”
According to Peter Beinart of the Atlantic, winning elections requires more than just raising more money – it requires winning more votes. In fact, Obama compensated for Romney’s big money advantage by raising more in increments of less than $200. If small individual contributions do in fact hold more value than major contributors as Beinart suggests, then the GOP’s reliance on big donors will further remove the party from the average donor, thus costing – not buying – the party votes.
Does the amount of money in political campaigns matter?
In my mind, the McCutcheon ruling will have few ramifications. Not to say that the campaign finance system doesn’t serve a purpose. But, as the saying goes, “if there is a will, there is a way.” Loop-holes are inevitable. Case in point: 501(c)’s in campaign finance. Under Citizens United, major donors could anonymously contribute an unlimited amount to Super PACs. The only major change I expect to result from this ruling is the increase in political parties influence, and a decrease in the expenditures of Super PACs.
Moreover, the idea that there is too much money in politics has been blown out of proportion. Put this into perspective: Proctor and Gamble spent $9.3 billion on advertising in 2010. The 2010 election cycle spent a total of $3.6 billion. Of that $3.6 billion, $205 million was by outside groups (PACs).
Why is there not more money in politics? Because there is no return on investment. Campaign contributions do not result in policies favored by donors. There is no correlation between a member’s legislative voting record and contributions by interest groups. (see Ansolabehere, de Figueiredo, & Snyder (2003) study on roll call voting: table 1)
If money doesn’t buy elections or legislators votes, maybe we should have more faith in our system after all? Bradley Smith, writing for the National Review, makes a great point: “The ruling proves that the government must have clear evidence that large campaign donations cause corruption, rather than opposing limitless giving just because it might lead to corruption.”
Margaret Moore is an associate at Capstone National Partners. To contact her, email her at email@example.com.
The views in this blog post represent the viewpoints of individual team members, not Capstone National Partners as a whole.