The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that campaign contributions are a form of free speech.
That is, your freedom to help a politician pay for advertisements is similar to your freedom to speak on his or her behalf. But you support a politician because you want them to support your personal interests over other people’s interests. So, other than being legal, campaign contributions are no different from bribes. Contributions and bribes are both given to politicians in the hope of getting favorable treatment in return.
Furthermore, everybody knows that politicians indulge those who get them re-elected. So, will Republican politicians support your interests as thoroughly as they support the interests of multi-billionaires like Charles Koch? And will Democrat politicians support your interests as thoroughly as they support the interests of multi-billionaires like George Soros and Tom Steyer? In other words, both parties are totally dominated by extremely rich and powerful elites.
We allow campaign contributions so that people who aren’t wealthy have an equal chance for office as the wealthy. But the truth is that those same contributions allow the wealthy to control whoever is elected to office. So, do campaign contributions make us more equal or less?
Multi-billionaires and large corporations generally hedge their bets by making campaign contributions to both political parties.
That ensures that both parties put the interests of the rich and powerful before yours and mine. Does that sound like the best way to run a free society? Or for that matter, just how free is that society?
Some have suggested that government should finance all political campaigns. That would ensure equal financial backing for every candidate, but it ignores the elephant in the room. That is, most of the campaign money goes to advertisements, which air occasionally. But the news media bombards the eyes, ears, and brains of voters all day long every day. And only the most naïve believe that there is such a thing as an unbiased journalist or media organization.
But on the other hand, let’s play devil’s advocate – if media programming isn’t free speech, then what is? How can we put limits on the media without limiting ourselves?
Because of campaign contributions, Congress doesn’t represent the interests of the poor or the middle class. And if we didn’t depend on other people to represent us in Congress, we could eliminate those campaign contributions. But we would only be trading these problems for other problems. Can you imagine the chaos if the whole nation voted on every law?
And if you really want to see why that wouldn’t work, just watch a riot and ask yourself if you want those people to vote on the issues that affect your life! Besides, even without representatives we’d still need executive and judicial branches. The bottom line is that some form of representative democracy is unavoidable.
James Madison showed us the ideal.James Madison said the ideal way to support proper government …
… is such a process of elections as will most certainly extract from the mass of the Society the purest and noblest characters…. (Madison 1787, item 11)
Certainly, Madison’s claim is correct, but is it realistic? Can his ideal be achieved? If so, is our current “process of elections” the way to achieve it? Are our politicians the “purest and noblest characters”? I claim that there is a way to eliminate both campaign contributions and the domination of elections by the so-called “news” media. And I base that claim on some of Madison’s other writings, along with those of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and other great thinkers.
Do you believe there could be a way to eliminate campaign contributions as well as domination of elections by news media?
This site is for discussing how to improve our political system. It is NOT for discussing party politics or political figures. So if you have a non-partisan question or comment, feel free to leave it below.
Madison, James. 1787. “Vices of the Political System of the United States, April 1787,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed September 29, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/01-09-02-0187. [Original source: The Papers of James Madison, vol. 9, 9 April 1786 – 24 May 1787 and supplement 1781–1784, ed. Robert A. Rutland and William M. E. Rachal. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1975, pp. 345–358.]