Lynn Abbott: Limit election money
November 14, 2012
Before putting the campaign season of 2012 on the dusty shelves of memory, let's consider the vast amount of money spent and its effect. As I look back, this campaign was often as much about money as candidates and issues. News releases compared the amounts raised by campaigns as if they were deciding factors a voter should consider. Additionally, we heard daily reports on the millions pouring into super PACs and "social welfare" groups.
This money fueled endlessly repetitive TV and radio ads, which were mostly negative, often inaccurate and sometimes flat-out lies. Because these outside groups cannot work with the candidates, nobody was accountable. At least when a candidate says "My name is so-and-so and I approve this message," the candidate and the campaign have a motivation to ensure they are telling the truth.
The effects of these ads were even worse than their actual content. The constant repetition convinced viewers and listeners that they knew and understood the issues without doing any in-depth reading or research on their own, and they began parroting those half-truths as their own beliefs. Fact-checking was sidelined. The negativity carried from the TV and radio into daily conversations and often made civil discourse impossible, further polarizing our already polarized electorate.
Lastly, I hate to think of the payback expected of winning legislators and officials — phones will be ringing in January with the contributors of those millions demanding policies for which they paid. Fortunately, most of those millions were invested in losing campaigns — but I don't kid myself that those investors will stop trying to buy influence in our government as long as they legally can. They are undoubtedly already making plans for 2014.
It is clear to me that something has to change, and I'm not alone. According to a 2012 Associated Press poll, 81 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of independents and 85 percent of Democrats want to limit corporate, union and other outside spending on campaigns. Our own state of Colorado proudly voted by 74 percent in favor of campaign finance limits. With such bipartisan support nationwide, we must mobilize and make this happen now.
Our best first step is a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case, which granted personhood to corporations and unions, allowing them to spend unlimited money for or against a candidate. To me it is clear — and many agree — that for-profit corporations are not people; they are legal entities formed for business purposes and their primary goal is financial gain rather than civic responsibility. The Citizens United decision was used as a precedent in a second case, SpeechNow.org v. FEC, giving individuals a green light to contribute unlimited funds to super PACs. This case also allows unrestricted donations to "social welfare" organizations, which are the worst because they are not even required to publish their donors.
How do we amend the constitution? Two-thirds of each chamber of Congress must vote for the amendment and it must be ratified by three-quarters of the states. According to Peter Schurman, of McClatchy-Tribune, we are well on our way: 67 U.S. senators, 290 U.S. representatives and 10 states are on board. We can do this! We already have bipartisan, grass-roots support across the nation. Please contact Sen. Mark Udall, Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Scott Tipton and ask for their support.
If you would like to participate locally, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am eager to hear and compile your ideas. Together, we can develop a strong local advocacy group on this issue.
As I said above, overturning Citizens United is only the first step in limiting the effect of big money on our elections and our government. We will have more work to do, which I'll address in a later piece.