A Tsunami of Money

Updated: Aug 30, 2021

Money corrupts; excessive money corrupts absolutely (with apologies to Lord Acton)

Just two weeks before the 2018 federal midterm election, the Center for Responsive Politics projected that the nation would spend $5.2 billion on that election. If you combine that with the amount spent in the last presidential election in 2016 ($6.5 billion), you get a staggering $11.7 billion spent in one four-year election cycle. And those numbers are not only enormous, but they are also increasing rapidly with each election setting new records (the 2018 amount is 26% higher than the previous midterm in 2014).

But we must ask: Did this tsunami of money improve the quality of the election? Did it result in a more informed electorate?

Sadly, the answer is “No” to both questions. That money was often used to pay for scurrilous attacks on an opponent with little regard for the truthfulness of the claims made. Once again, we were manipulated by the political class.

Why would the people and organizations of the country donate that kind of money to elect officials for terms of office of only two, four, or six years? Certainly, the big donors thought it was a good investment that would give them access to the political power structure and enable them to influence the laws and regulations coming out of Washington. That’s how special interests with deep pockets have hijacked our republic and undermined our democracy.

The power of money has long been recognized as a corrupting influence in our politics, and in recent years there have been attempts to curtail it through election finance reform laws. Unfortunately, those attempts have been largely ineffective, and the money circus has continued unabated, with each succeeding election setting a new record for campaign expenditures. Many observers see this as the most serious threat we face, and if we cannot solve it, they predict we will continue to see the decline of the republic and the loss of our freedoms. If they are right, we will lose the dynamism that built the strongest country in the world.

We must find a solution to this seemingly intractable problem: We need a reform that gives voters in an election district the right of quiet enjoyment of their election without interference from outside parties.

An important strength of this approach is its simplicity. It would offer no loopholes for outsiders to exploit, which has been the flaw in every previous attempt to place limits on campaign expenditures. And it would sharply curtail the power of special interest groups as elected officials would no longer have to answer to these large campaign contributors.

The underlying issue is whether the rights of the wealthy and special interest groups shall triumph over the rights of voters in a district when they elect officials to carry their proxy to Washington. In a republic, priority must go to the voters, and a reform must recognize and codify that right.

Frank Keeney

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