While 70-80% of Americans regularly agree that more should be done to rein in the influence of money in elections and legislating, there remain big disagreements over how to accomplish this. Some say that we should amend the constitution to place hard limits on how much of their own money someone can donate or spend. Others are concerned that this would limit free speech, and instead prefer to combat private money with public money, proposing that each American be given $100 each election to donate to the campaign of their choice. Critics say this proposal wouldn’t do enough, and that it’s not right to use taxpayer money on campaigns.
Considering all of the above, your discussion topic for the week:
What do you think should be done about the role of money in politics? In your response, you should consider much (but not necessarily all) of the following:
Although most people say they wish to diminish the role of money in politics, you do not necessarily have to take this position. You can defend maintaining the existing system, or even altering the system to further increase the role of money in politics, but you should certainly be sure to defend your position from the perspective of the public good and the health of our political system. Be sure to keep in mind the many counterarguments you may be likely to face.
You may wish to treat this as an exercise in which you stay within the given constitutional bounds of the system. If you do that, keep in mind that many previous reform efforts were found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court as a violation of individual and group rights to free expression. What kind of reforms do you think we could make to the current system that would not likely be struck by the Courts? What practical reforms do you think could realistically get passed into law? We have discussed proposals like public campaign financing, or providing all Americans with “democracy dollars” to spend on the campaigns of their choice. You may also suggest proposals that we may not have explored in class.
Alternatively, you may pretend that you have infinite power, and can reshape our political system in any way that you want. What would the ideal arrangement be? You may wish to reform, for instance, the amount of money campaigns are allowed to spend on politics. On the other hand, you may wish to place significant restrictions on who is allowed to donate that money, or disclosures on where the money comes from. In theory, you could even make it illegal to spend on political campaigns altogether, or create a system in which all campaigns receive an equal (or somehow proportional) amount of money from the government. What would be the advantages or disadvantages of any of these systems?
Despite overwhelming public support for reform of our current system of campaign finance and lobbying, we rarely see any changes to this system. What do you think explains this fact? Of course, an obvious answer is that “the system is corrupt, and the corrupt are keeping it going”, but even given this, why don’t both political parties compete over reform as a reason for the public to vote for them? Does the public simply not care enough about this issue? Does the public lack the ability to organize around this issue?