Money in Politics

In 2012, a mere 0.01% of all Americans contributed more than 28% of all the money spent in the election. Money in politics impacts every level of political campaigning and office holding.

Money Equals Access

Politicians are reluctant to admit that those who give large donations do indeed gain more attention from the candidate. What constitutes large donations is relative to the office. Local elections, like city council or school board races are typically low budget campaigns and the candidate is doing much of the fundraising themselves. Yet even at this level, candidates can offer easier access to those who provide donations over $500 vs. those who give $25.

A politician who's received contribution after contribution from a political patron is much more likely to entertain their concerns during a time of political – even personal – need. Money often equals access, and access equals action.

Candidates who are backed by large corporations and wealthy individuals argue that these large donors help those who cannot finance themselves, allowing the non-wealthy to run for office.

Political Action Committees

Middle-class and working-poor Americans have become alienated from the election process, as wealthy Americans are able to buy more influence. Large corporations and wealthy individuals can use their business and philanthropic networks to create multiple money channels or Political Action Committees (PACs) Organizations aiming to raise and spend money in support of electoral candidates. Often represent common interests, such as business, labor or ideology, that make it seem like donations are coming from many different sources.

Two recent Supreme Court cases changed campaign finance rules that had limited the amount individuals or organizations can give to political causes.

Citizens United v. FEC

In Citizens United v. FEC (2010), the Supreme Court ruled that corporations, unions, and other special interest groups may spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for or against a candidate or issue.

The Court said that these special interests have a constitutional right to free speech and therefore can spend unlimited money, as long as it is not given directly to a candidate. This opened the door for the creation of super PACs Organizations that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on a political candidate or cause, but cannot coordinate with the candidates that they support.

McCutcheon v. FEC

In McCutcheon v. FEC (2014), a wealthy Alabama businessman and the Republican National Committee (RNC) challenged a federal law that limited the businessman’s donation to $123,200 for a single election cycle. The Supreme Court decided that this violated McCutcheon’s First Amendment right to free speech.

The Supreme Court kept the limits on how much a person could donate to an individual candidate ($5,200), but did not limit how many candidates you could donate to. With the laws changed, individual donors could give up to $3.6 million per election.

Minnesota and Money

In Minnesota specifically, 20 of the largest outside groups in Minnesota raised $18 million for the 2014 election cycle, with a majority of that going to the Governor’s race and certain state House races. Of the $53 million donated to PACs from 2007 to 2013, 36 individuals donated a total of $27 million.

In December 2014, the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a group that looks at campaign spending transparency, gave Minnesota a grade of F, largely because Minnesota lacks a requirement  that independent political spenders must disclose all information about electioneering communications Messages that are not backed by candidates and address campaigns in general.

One of the disturbing issues around electioneering communications is that many times the messaging is filled with false or distorted facts about a candidate and it’s impossible for the candidates to know who is producing these messages. Depending on their campaign resources, some candidates may not have the ability to retort false information.

Attempts at Reform

Individual states are attempting to reform campaign finance laws, but there is no uniform law across the United States to change the system as it works right now.

Organizations and individuals are working to knock down the barriers to fair elections and fix campaign finance so that “dark money” and unknown donors cannot contribute unlimited amounts of cash to influence elections in their favor.

Some of the key organizations working toward campaign finance reform:

Intersectionality of Money and Voting Voice

The influence of money in our political system is corruptive and it touches every aspect of our daily lives. Too much private money in our political systems coupled with the institution of racism - along with every other “ism” - is the toxic foundation for every barrier named on this website.

If the work of the above organizations and others engaged in this reform movement are not joined by millions of voters demanding that unlimited campaign funding and hidden money be eliminated from the campaign trails, the number of voices influencing the power structure will continue to be severely limited to a tiny percentage of privileged Americans.