The Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, which held that the government can’t limit what corporations and unions can spend on political campaigns, is perhaps one of the most-reviled of recent decisions.
President Obama availed himself of an opportunity to attack Citizens United during his 2010 State of the Union address, causing Justice Sam Alito to mouth the words “not true” with regard to the president’s interpretation.
Instead of passing laws to say what a corporation can or can’t spend out of its own coffers, why not figure out what’s at the root of such big spending in the political arena?
Robert Weissberg pinpoints the reason for the big political expenditures in a great piece on the American Thinker: big government.
This hand-wringing about evil money sidesteps the reasons for the increase. Contrary to what reformers insist, soaring spending is not about an epidemic of donor greed to subvert some "public good."
The sharp increase is about expanding government power — big, fat government itself, not nefarious contributors, is the culprit. In a nutshell, heightened generosity reflects Washington's growing intrusion into every corner of our lives. Big-money donations are largely defensive.
Nobody gives millions unless necessary, and if government can issue a few rules that might devastate your business, out comes the checkbook, and the greater this potential impact, the greater the generosity.
According to the piece, the era of epic political spending dawned in the 1960s, when Washington began to expand its writ. One common ruse nowadays, the story reports, is for a lawmaker to propose some stringent, new regulation and then sit back as threatened industry hires lobbyists to send him financial inducements to realize that the proposed regulation wasn’t such a dandy idea after all.
Washington’s involvement in health care, beginning in the 1960 and taking a great leap forward with the passage of Obamacare, has also encouraged billions more to be spent on politics:
From doctors and hospitals, from medical device manufactures to insurance companies, from malpractice lawyers to nursing home operators, from charities to Big Pharma, dozens of distinct constituencies proliferate with a stake in the final outcome. This is pay-to-play politics on steroids. Even the slightest rule-change regarding, say, doctor's fees under Medicare can justify millions in campaign contributions.
Given that government is so big and controls so much of our economy, it should come as no surprise that corporations have to spend money on politics. There is no way to fix this problem through new campaign finance laws because resourceful corporations will find other ways to make themselves heard in Washington.
To those who say that too much money in politics harms democracy, we must reply that it is too much government that harms democracy and makes the electoral process so bizarrely expensive.
The only way to reduce the role of money in politics is to reduce the size of government—the very remedy that President Obama and others who (ostensibly) deplore the presence of vast amounts of filthy lucre in politics aren't likely to embrace.
One last point about "too much money being inimical to democracy:"
This view is far too narrow. Candidates possess multiple potential resources — e.g., ample volunteer labor, celebrity endorsements, having a famous family name, looking photogenic, running as an incumbent, and the ability to generate mass media adoration, among multiple other potential election-related resources.
Money is only one asset and often compensates for disadvantages elsewhere. An unknown upstart running against a Kennedy or a famous athlete might have to spend a fortune just to be equal.
When all is said and done, if democratic elections require a level playing field, all resources — not just money — must to be equalized. Accomplishing this is, of course, impossible and, if attempted, guarantees totalitarianism. Imagine if a Teddy Kennedy had to run under a different name since his famous lineage gave him "an unfair advantage"!
But if government were smaller, contributions would be, too.