Since campaign finance reform was overturned by the Supreme Court in Citizens v. United, politicians have run amok in corrupt money. Three 2012 Republican presidential candidates have been accused of impropriety, two of whom are being investigated by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). President Barack Obama has further fueled this bonanza by supporting super PACs and endorsing the idea of unlimited donations. Amidst a political climate that does not favor campaign finance reform, the public at large must protect what few regulations remain.
The Campaign Legal Center, a campaign finance watchdog, recently filed a complaint against Rick Santorum accusing him of illegally soliciting a donor to contribute $1 million to a super PAC supporting his candidacy. While candidates can ask for donations to super PACS, the amount must remain within the legal contribution limits. Therefore, Santorum could solicit donations at a maximum $5,000, not $1 million. He has also been accused of essentially bribing an influential Iowa evangelical leader by paying him $1 million to endorse him.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) withdrew from the 2014 congressional race due to what many suspect were campaign finance wrongdoings. She has been accused of attempting to buy an Iowa state senator’s endorsement, using Michele PAC to pay a consulting firm whose head worked for her campaign, and coordinating with a super PAC. It is illegal for PACs to be involved with the actual campaign. Ron Paul has also been accused of bribing the same state senator to ditch Bachmann for Paul in the Iowa Caucuses.
Of course, this problem is not limited to Republicans. Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) is awaiting sentencing for misuse of $750,000 in campaign funds, which he is likely using to pay his legal bills.
However, Republicans on the FEC have been especially uncooperative in addressing campaign finance violations. Further invigorated by the vacancy of a Democrat on the six-person commission, they have attempted to push through new rules that would shift the fact-finding burden from the FEC to complainants. Specifically, the Republicans’ proposal would have barred FEC staff from consulting with the Department of Justice and public records when reviewing complaints. Without these powers, it is difficult to persuade the commission to pursue an investigation of wrongdoings.
President Obama has not taken a strong stand on campaign finance reform. He was the first presidential candidate to forgo public financing in the general election, which set a precedent for future nominees. He also supported the formation of a super PAC in the 2012 election despite railing against them two years prior. Even though he banned corporate contributions to first presidential campaign, corporations spent over $8 million on his second one. Finally, Obama for America became Organizing for Action, a political advocacy organization that can collect unlimited donations, the ultimate spit-in-the-face for campaign finance reform advocates.
The little support the American people have in the White House and Congress for campaign finance reform must at least be maintained. Contribution limits must be upheld, and corporations must be limited in their donations to candidates. At the local and state levels, public financing of campaigns should be encouraged. Lastly, strong disclosure laws must be passed the public knows who is corrupting politics with its money. Until then, the public must do with piecemeal reforms.