corporations’ spending to influence political campaigns. Specifically, it will discuss why corporations should be prohibited from spending to influence political campaigns. It is well-known that those who have the most money to wield usually hold most of the power, and this is extremely true of most large corporations in America today. These corporations might pick and choose where they exert their power, but most all of them contribute the maximum amount allowable by law to political campaigns. With the Presidential election looming in November, these contributions have picked up at a breakneck pace. These contributions, known as “soft money” in the political world, should be prohibited, because they go against the meaning of the U.S. Constitution, and they influence the candidates in ways that often do not benefit their constituents. Political contributions from large corporations are not the American way, and they should be banned entirely, to add integrity back into the election process.
Corporations’ Spending for Political Campaigns
Political parties are not a new invention in American politics, and neither are donations from those who hope to influence their candidates in specific ways. Today, political interest groups, who work for specific corporations or industries, are much more common than they once were, but they have always existed, as these experts note:
Political parties were invented in the United States in the late 1790s and have dominated American politics ever since. In the early decades of the republic, interest groups were subordinated to the much more powerful parties. But as the range of government activities gradually expanded, powerful interest groups paid more attention to politics (Hrebenar, Burbank, and Benedict 1).
There are numerous reasons why these continuing political contributions should be stopped. First, they are completely out of control, and are defining the way candidates run for office in our country. Political campaigns of past eras were shorter, and much less expensive. Today, campaigns seem to last forever, and the budgets are tremendous. For example, the 1998 governor’s race in California cost $100 million, and Senate races can cost $25 million or more, and the costs are rising every day (Hrebenar, Burbank, and Benedict 6). Arnold Schwarzenegger spent nearly $27 million to win the recall election in California just a few months ago, and the total spent by all the candidates was $88 million. Even more astounding, Ex-Governor Gray Davis left office owing his campaign money. While he raised “more money – 131 million dollars – than any previous California governor, Davis left office with a campaign debt of 268,000 dollars, according to the Los Angeles Times” (“Recall”). These figures are astounding, but they also show why political campaign contributions from large corporations must be prohibited. Political spending is out of control, and to bring it back into line, campaigns should be shortened, and costs should be reduced.
In addition, political contributions create undue pressure on political candidates. Corporations are not contributing large amounts simply out of the goodness of their hearts. They are spending money to make money – by influencing their candidates when specific legislation is introduced in Congress, or by state politicians. Their contributions cover future laws, and this is quite evident in the current debate over the President’s new Medicare Bill, which he touts as a salvation for Medicare recipients, and proponents say is nothing more than pandering to the big pharmaceutical companies who contributed to Bush’s 2000 Presidential Campaign. This is an excellent example of why political campaigns should not receive contributions from major corporations or industries. Later, whether their contributions have influenced the politician or not, they will be seen as influencing the political process by many, and this not only demeans the process, it puts the ethics of the politician in question.
There are those who believe prohibiting corporations from spending to influence political campaigns is not feasible or equitable for a number of compelling reasons. The dangers of major contributions to political campaigns has already been noted, and as far back as 1971, reforms were passed which severely limit the contributions individuals and corporations can make to political campaigns. The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) of 1971 set limits on what candidates can spend on media advertising, required detailed reports on contributions and their origins, and required full financial disclosures from the parties sixty days after the end of their political nominating conventions (Theilmann and Wilhite 46). In addition, numerous amendments to FECA have created even more controls on political contributions, set limits on the amount of contributions, and created the Federal Election Committee (FEC) to oversee elections and contributions. These regulations and governing bodies ensure the candidates are much less open to cohesion or pressure from any one interest group or corporation, and preclude the need for additional limits and limitations on political campaigns.
Prohibiting corporations from contributing to political campaigns also violates the right to free speech, according to many experts and researchers. In fact, the Chairman of the FEC, David M. Mason, agrees that contributions are linked to free speech, and therefore are protected by the Constitution. “I agree with the analysis that the purpose of money is to facilitate speech and debate about politics and therefore it has to be constitutionally protected as a necessary component, if you will, of free speech,’ Mason said. ‘It’s not the same thing, but it’s inextricably combined’” (Lambro 26). Therefore, prohibiting the contributions would not only adversely affect politicians, who face the need to raise ever increasing amounts of money to successfully campaign and win their seats, it would eventually question the nature of the Constitution, and end up endlessly drawn out in lengthy and costly court battles, which could reach all the way to the Supreme Court.
The argument that political contributions to candidates should not be prohibited lacks one major defense. How do these contributions benefit the American people, who these candidates are professing to serve? The answer is clearly they do not. Political contributions made by special interests and corporations are not designed to benefit the American people in any way. They are simply designed to benefit the corporations and industries that contribute. These corporations create jobs and influence the economy, but other than that, the donations do not benefit the constituents in the least.
In addition, the argument that there are already enough limits in place does not hold water. One expert noted, “The reforms of 1974, which placed limits on individual donations to candidates, sparked the creation of unregulated political action committees and then a surge in soft money donations” (“Campaign Alternative” 3). It is quite clear this is another compelling reason that reforms must come, and must come quickly. As long as political contributions from corporations are legal, the corporations will create new and imaginative ways to push the edge of the envelope and continue their control of the American political system. Therefore, political contributions from corporations must be limited, and politicians must find other ways to fund their campaigns. Not only will it benefit the integrity of the politicians, it will help the American people regain some sort of control over the politicians they elect to office.
It is quite clear that political interest groups and major corporations have the opportunity to dominate and control American politics today, despite growing unrest at their political power. Political contributions must be controlled if the political party system in America is going to continue. The need for political reform is clear, and it is clear that the current legislations and controls have not controlled political contributions at all; they have simply created creative loopholes for contributors to get around the laws.
There are alternatives to the current political contributions and their damaging effects. Several states have enacted “clean money” alternatives to the dodgy soft money from corporations that hope for their own gain. Massachusetts, Arizona, and Maine have enacted reforms that allow candidates in their states to turn down soft money, or private contributions, and opting to receive public funds, known as “clean money” (“Campaign Alternative” 3). Therefore, these state candidates’ personal and political ethics do not come into question, and they can campaign and represent the issues of the people, rather than the issues benefiting the special interests and big corporations. This seems to be a viable alternative to the current political campaign contribution frenzy that would add integrity to the process, and give constituents more peace of mind.
Interest groups have so extended their range of activities that they are now challenging political parties in the latter’s traditional campaign lair. Campaigns now provide a common arena for both political parties and interest groups” (Hrebenar, Burbank, and Benedict 1).
Today, political contributions dominate the political campaign landscape. Campaigns run longer, cost more, and politicians must rely heavily on contributions from big business, that clearly want something in return for their bucks. While there are limitations to what corporations can contribute, they are easily sidestepped, and these limitations must be tightened up.
In effect, the American people no longer have control of their government, and their voices are most often overshadowed by the voice of big business. If the people want more control over their politicians, they must remove control from big business, and create alternatives for political campaign finances.
Author not Available. “California Governor Recall Campaigners Spend $88m.” XinhuaNet.com. 5 Feb. 2004. 6 Feb. 2004. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2004-02/05/content_1299687.htm
Campaign Alternative.” The Christian Century 4 Apr. 2001: 3.
Hrebenar, Ronald J., Matthew J. Burbank, and Robert C. Benedict. Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Political Campaigns. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999.
Lambro, Donald. “Free-Speech Connection: FEC Chairman Says Free Speech and Contributions to Campaigns Are Linked.” Insight on the News 26 Aug. 2002: 26.
Theilmann, John, and Al Wilhite. Discrimination and Congressional Campaign Contributions. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1991.
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