Money, elections and free speech in politics
Money and politics have had a long and complicated history, and a recent United States Supreme Court case is only further adding to this legacy.
What constitutes free speech in the American political system? Democracy in the U.S. has long been fueled by the ability of citizens to communicate their opinions on the course they believe legislators should take. This kind of dialogue is essential to maintaining a strong and free political system as it allows people to be heard and their concerns acknowledged.
Elections and money
The country's democracy functions by citizens electing who they believe would best represent their opinions in government. This happens on a number of levels from local and state governments, all the way up to the federal branches.
These politicians need to be able to garner support through extensive campaigns in which they spread awareness regarding the various policies that they will stand for when in office.
Citizens can help the politicians that they support in a number of different ways. Their votes are among the most direct methods, offering ones time to help campaign is another strategy, but one of the most controversial ways they support their candidates is through donations.
No figure has been better at being able to raise campaign money than current President Barack Obama. An opinion piece in U.S. News and World Report points out that 30 percent of his campaign donations have been made up of individuals who have contributed $250 dollar or less, adding to his total of $1 billion given to his campaign.
The controversy with donations
While most people agree that citizens should be allowed to contribute to their favorite politicians' campaigns, how much can get very complicated. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that individuals could contribute any amount of money that they would like to super PACs and nonprofits that advocated for or against certain causes or candidates. Those who supported the ruling said it was a first amendment victory while those who were against the decision said it opened the door for corruption in politics.
Now the issue has come up again as the Supreme Court listens to arguments from both sides of the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission case. U.S. News and World Report explains that the plaintiff (Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon) is claiming that his first amendment rights have been violated, not because the amount of money he can contribute is being limited, but because the number of candidates he can contribute to has.
Many have fallen on different sides of this issue throughout the country. The U.S. News and World Report piece argues that as long as money is considered free speech, the number of people or total donations should theoretically be unlimited. However, it contends that this could open the door for severe distortions of the American political system.
"It seems that there must be a balance between allowing individuals to express themselves freely, while, at the same time, not allowing a corruption of the system," the writer argues.
Instead, it suggests that the number of people to which individuals can contribute to be unlimited but restrict individual contributions to $50 to strike their balance.
An op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal argues, however, that for there to be true freedom in this arena, spending limits on people should not be regulated at all. It argues that money is used in so many aspects of political discourse, that to bar its use would be to show preference to different forms of such speech. Further, it contends that there is already so much money involved in political campaigns that a single individual would not be able to tip the scale one way or another.