Campaign finance law is one of those subjects that sounds incredibly dull and boring, but in actuality is full of intrigue and potential corruption. Before the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) in the early 1970s, there were no stringent limits on how much an individual or corporation could donate to a candidate.
Guess what catalyst changed that? Watergate. See? I told you this was scandalous stuff.
Ok, let’s talk about money and campaigns. Currently, there are four ways that a campaign brings in cash: 1) Small donations of less than $200 per individual, 2) Large donations of $200-$2,500 per individual, 3) Political Action Committees (PACs), and 4) Self-funding.
Between 2002-2010, when the McCain-Feingold Act was enacted and before it was struck down by the Citizens United Supreme Court case, corporations could not form Super PACs to contribute limitless amounts of money to candidates. Now, super PACs can support a candidate, but they may not have a first-hand relationship with said candidate. This is important because it limits the shady nature of a direct ‘no limits’ approach to campaign contributions.
Think about it … Let’s say Mr. Big Shot gives $10 million to President Obama for his reelection bid, and he wins the election. Down the line, Mr. Big Shot puts in a bid for a government contract and wins it. Even if he were the best guy for the job, it would be seen as a pay-for-play ploy, and that is no good at all. If Mr. Big Shot gave that money to a Super PAC, he would have no direct involvement with the campaign. Campaigns cannot tell super PACs what to do.
So now let’s get down to talking about individual donations to campaigns. A person may donate up to $2,500 to a candidate for each the primary and general election, even if the primary has already passed (to pay off campaign debt and such). Some people argue that limits should not be placed on these individual contributions as it violates our first amendment rights of free expression, but I don’t believe that’s a fair complaint.
Everyone has the same right to donate up to a certain amount of money to a candidate of his or her choice. The amount may be debated, and personally, I wouldn’t have a problem seeing it increased. $2,500 is hardly a large sum when we’re now spending more than a billion dollars on presidential elections.
In order to avoid accusations of partiality (whether valid or baseless), we need caps on campaign contributions. There’s no such thing as a perfect system, but this is the fairest way to ensure a clean election -- aside from all the mudslinging, of course.
Image via purpleslog/Flickr