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OPINION

U.S. Needs to Drastically Alter Campaign Finance Rules

The landmark Supreme Court decision handed down in January 2010, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, proves it is time for serious, meaningful, lasting and reasonable campaign finance reform.

The Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision held in favor of Citizens United and found that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts during election cycles cannot be limited under the First Amendment.

The Supreme Court struck down a provision of McCain-Feingold Act that prohibited all corporations, both for profit and not for-profit, and unions from broadcasting “electioneering communications” within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. The Citizens United case did not affect the continuing federal ban on direct contributions from corporations or unions to candidate campaigns or political parties.

The effect of the Supreme Court decision is that although U.S. corporations and unions cannot contribute directly to campaigns or candidates, they can expend whatever funds they want to engage in “issue advocacy and education” at any time during or between election cycles.

Even though U.S. corporations and unions under current law cannot contribute directly to campaigns or candidates, there are ways for outsiders to influence outcomes of elections that are disturbing and fundamentally unfair. Here are some examples of the top ten industries giving to members of Congress in the 2010 election cycle as reported by OpenSecrets.org:                                                    

1

Lawyers/Law Firms

$58,762,055 (in millions)

82% (R)

18% (D)

Who Gained the Most: 

Harry Reid (D-Nev)

2

Retired

$39,694,326

56%

44%

Barbara Boxer (D-Calif)

3

Health Professionals

$36,636,140

58%

42%

Mark Kirk (R-Ill)

4

Securities/Invest

$31,282,319

64%

36%

Charles E. Schumer (D-NY)

5

Real Estate

$30,174,199

61%

38%

Charles E. Schumer (D-NY)

6

Insurance

$23,412,995

53%

47%

Charles E. Schumer (D-NY)

7

Lobbyists

$22,775,612

69%

30%

Harry Reid (D-Nev)

8

Leadership PACs

$21,056,700

65%

34%

Roy Blunt (R-Mo)

9

Democratic/Liberal

$18,645,223

100%

0%

Joseph A. Sestak, Jr (D-Pa)

10

Pharm/Health Prod

$16,246,730

58%

42%

Richard Burr (R-NC)

The top ten “heavy hitters” organizations for the 2010 election cycle were the following as reported by OpenSecrets.org:

 

                                                                                               Millions

ActBlue

$50,010,524

AT&T Inc

$46,077,005

American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees

$43,337,561

National Assn of Realtors

$38,628,441

Goldman Sachs

$33,360,252

American Assn for Justice

$33,047,779

Intl Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

$32,930,966

National Education Assn

$32,021,910

Laborers Union

$30,106,550

Carpenters & Joiners Union

$29,154,808

 

 

 

 

The top five individual 527* donations as reported by OpenSecrets.org for 2010 include:

 

                                                                        MILLIONS

Fred Eshelman (Wilmington, NC)

$3,380,125

Carly Fiorina (Sacramento, CA)

$2,511,580

Peter Ackerman (Washington, DC)

$1,552,400

B Wayne Hughes (Lexington, KY)

$1,550,000

Michael R Bloomberg (New York, NY)

$1,500,000

 

*A 527 is a tax-exempt organization named after the section of the IRS Code that governs entities created primarily to influence a nomination, or election.

In light of the Citizens United case, how can the amount of influence and donation from “outsiders” who have no real nexus or real “local interest” in the outcome of elections be limited?

 

The following steps should be considered to level the political playing field so that the biggest voice heard during election campaigns comes from the candidates and the citizens who have the paramount interest in the outcome, because they are the voters who will decide them.

 

U.S. House Races

 

-- Citizens can only contribute to a congressional candidate in the district of their domicile.    

-- A corporation, (not for profit or otherwise), or union with a nexus to a Congressional district can make a monetary contribution to a candidate. The “nexus” must be a test of contacts with the district to be determined by Congress.

-- Congress shall determine amounts of contribution by individuals, unions and corporations.

-- National, state and local parties shall have caps set on their contributions to House candidates, directly or indirectly to be determined by Congress.

-- Corporations, (not for profit or otherwise), and unions must disclose to shareholders/members and the FEC the amount of monies donated to for political purposes as well as monies expended for “electioneering” communications and where such monies were expended prior to or contemporaneous with the communications being made. They must also disclose the content of the communication.

-- Corporations, (not for profit or otherwise) and unions must advertise in their own names and must disclose within the advertising their name and nexus to the district in which the ad appears.

 

U.S. Senate Races

 

-- Citizens can only contribute to a U.S. Senate candidate in the state of their domicile.    

-- A corporation,   (not for profit or otherwise), or union with a nexus to a State can make a monetary contribution to a U.S. Senate candidate. The “nexus” must be a test of contacts with the State to be determined by Congress.

-- Congress shall determine amounts of contribution by individuals, unions and corporations.

-- National, state and local parties shall have caps set on their contributions to U.S. Senate candidates, directly or indirectly to be determined by Congress.

-- Corporations, (not for profit or otherwise), and unions must disclose to shareholders/members and the FEC the amount of monies donated for political purposes as well as monies expended for “electioneering” communications and where such monies were expended prior to or contemporaneous with the communications being made. They must also disclose the content of the communication.

-- Corporations, (not for profit or otherwise) and unions must advertise in their own names and must disclose within the advertising their name and nexus to the State in which the ad appears.

Presidential

-- Citizens can contribute to presidential primaries and general elections in amounts   determined by Congress however such donations could only be utilized by campaigns in the State of their domicile.

-- A corporation,   (not for profit or otherwise), or union can make a monetary contribution to a presidential candidate’s primary and/or general election. Such donations can only be utilized by campaigns in the state of their nexus. For instance, if General Motors has a plant in Michigan it can donate in an amount to be determined by Congress and can only be utilized in the state of Michigan.

-- Congress shall determine amounts of contribution by individuals, unions and corporations.

-- National, state and local parties shall have caps set on their contributions to general election campaigns and conventions, directly or indirectly to be determined by Congress.

-- Corporations, (not for profit or otherwise), and unions must disclose to shareholders/members and the FEC the amount of monies expended for political purposes and monies expended for “electioneering” communications and where such monies were expended prior to or contemporaneous with the communications being made. They must also disclose the content of the communication.

-- Corporations, (not for profit or otherwise) and unions must advertise in their own names and must disclose their identity within the advertising.

Personal Wealth: A candidate for the House, Senate or President can expend whatever personal wealth they wish to contribute to their own campaigns without limit. However, once a candidate passes the threshold of contribution in an amount decided by Congress, the U.S. Government will match that contribution to opponents.

Reasoning: Today, citizens can only vote in the district of their domicile. A citizen does not have the right to vote in the district of their choosing. Corporations and unions should only be allowed to seek to influence an election, if they have a nexus to that district/state. It makes no sense for “outsiders” to have undue or unfair amounts of influence in elections they have no nexus to or “interest” in. These new rules would make representatives more beholden to their constituents. I always found it very strange when a NY Congressman would attend a fundraiser for his own campaign in Arizona. By matching a personal wealth contribution beyond a threshold by the U.S. government will insure that no citizen will have even the chance the ‘buy” an election.

The elimination of outside influence would reduce the vast amounts of money candidates and parties would need to raise and would give more of a voice to those who have the greatest stake in the outcome of an election, the voters, corporations, unions and interest groups within that district or State.

Why should an enormously wealthy businesswoman who is domiciled in Texas be able to influence a Congressional race in Florida? Why should a U.S. corporation in New York be able to donate to a U.S. Senate race in California where they have no presence or nexus? Why should a union be able to influence a U.S. Senate Race in Rhode Island disproportionately to their presence or interest in that state?

Now is the time for fair and reasonable campaign finance reform. It is not in America’s interest to continue to allow elections to be influenced in disregard of the rights of candidates and the citizens most affected by the outcome of elections.

While we are at it, we should also institute a national primary day in April of the presidential election year. This will make each state equal as they are on the general election day. Our Founding Fathers saw that the greatness of our nation rests in one man one vote and equal treatment of states. Let’s get back to fairness and common sense in our political fundraising and electoral process and everyone will benefit.

Bradley A. Blakeman served as deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001-04. He is currently a professor of Politics and Public Policy at Georgetown University.