Missourians Can Combat the Political Influence of Moneyed Interests
On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, that the First Amendment does not permit the government either to ban certain speakers from engaging in political speech or to restrict the amount of money that a person or group can spend on political communication during a campaign. Many commentators nationwide are extremely concerned that this influx of cash will distort the political process, allowing wealthy individuals, corporations, and labor unions to purchase political influence and degrade the ability of ordinary citizens to affect the political process.
While the fallout of this case is not likely to be as dire as many are predicting, there is reason for voters to be concerned about the degree to which these moneyed interests might influence the political process. As the system currently exists, politicians have every incentive to prioritize fundraising because they believe (rightly or wrongly) that the more they spend, the more votes they will ultimately receive. Thus, particularly as elections draw near, they spend a large percentage of their time soliciting contributions for their campaign’s “war chest,” and many focus on paid advertisements more than on debates.
But despite these concerns about wealthy interests’ ability to commandeer the political system, ordinary Missourians have at their disposal the wherewithal to neutralize the influence of campaign contributions without spending a dime — if only they demonstrate the doggedness and cooperation necessary to do so. You see, regardless of how much money a politician or interest group spends, only a voter can control their vote. If enough citizens believe strongly that the influence of money in political campaigns should be limited, they can use their most valuable assets — their votes — to change the incentive structure for politicians.
My proposal is that such a group of concerned voters could pledge to ignore party, ideology, and rhetoric, and to cast their ballots based solely upon how much money each of the candidates raised — and the lower the amount of contributions, the better. If as few as 5 percent of registered voters (which in many elections could constitute a decisive margin) committed to voting for the candidate in each major race who amassed the third- or fourth-largest “war chest,” I’d wager that politicians in close races would quickly respond by de-emphasizing the importance of fundraising.
Yes, this is a radical solution. At least in the short term, it depends on the idea that no single candidate is worth electing if doing so will only perpetuate a political system that depends more on the power of the checkbook than on the power of ideas. Many may be unwilling to make a commitment that might result in casting a ballot for a Green Party candidate, a Libertarian, or even an independent, “tea party” candidate. But the formation of this sort of voting block is the most immediate, most direct way for those concerned to send a message that when it comes to campaign financing, perhaps less is more.
Dave Roland is a constitutional law expert and a policy analyst with the Show-Me Institute, a Missouri-based think tank.