For almost 150 years campaign finance reform has been a topic of discussion in American politics. The first real nationally successful reform occurred in the 1970s in the form of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). This Act, of course, did not settle the debate over campaign finance. In the years that followed, both political parties staked out their positions, with Republicans generally favoring unlimited campaign funding and Democrats generally preferring to limit all funding.
Regardless of where you fall on this debate there is one trend that should disturb everyone – out-of-state money. While many on both sides of the aisle complain about the influence money buys on a politician’s voting record, studies apparently don’t support this claim. But that doesn’t mean money doesn’t affect the direction of this country. Instead of paying off a politician for a yes or a no vote on a particular piece of legislation, today’s special interest groups spend millions of dollars to make sure the candidates that match their ideology get elected. After all, why buy one vote when you can buy them all with the right candidate?
The real problem with all of this outside money is that it turns what should be local elections representing local constituents and their concerns into national elections. So when John Boehner gets over $6 million of his $7 million from out-of-state contributors, it has more to do with his 100% party line voting record than what he brings back to his district. And when Richard Mourdock defeated Richard Lugar in the May 8th Republican primary, it was in large part thanks to special interest spending from groups like Club for Growth and FreedomWorks. According to ABC News, these groups “routinely pick inexpensive states and vulnerable Republican incumbents, attacking them for moderate votes” and supporting individuals like Mourdock, who wants to “do away with the Department of Education, Energy, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development”.
What groups like FreedomWorks and Club for Growth understand is that a certain level of spending is required for a candidate to be competitive. They supply the funds for these lesser-known fringe candidates and then pour millions of dollars into advertisements to set the agenda for the campaign. It is these special interest groups that have turned “moderate” and “compromise” into dirty words and put constitutional bans on gay marriage on the ballot to mobilize the zealots.
The overall effect of these tactics is a shift away from the center toward the radical fringe. This, combined with our sound bite obsessed media, has led to the increased partisanship and subsequent political stalemate that we are currently experiencing in this country.
Our current system is a perversion of the constitution’s requirement that Congress represent the people of the state. By allowing out-of-state funding, which clearly affects election outcomes, we are allowing those outside of a district or state a considerable amount of power over the results. Eliminating out-of-state money could have a dramatic affect on the lack of civility and production present in today’s politics while also forcing politicians to put the concerns of their constituents above those of their party or of their special interest sugar daddies.