Written by Corey Goldstone
In order to reform our campaign finance system, we need to come up with a clearer definition of “independent” vs. “coordinated” spending. A panel of experts, journalists and election lawyers at the Bipartisan Policy Center proposed just this on Tuesday, calling it an attainable step in resolving “corruption.” The timing couldn’t be better- a Gallup survey found that corruption in government is a central issue for voters in this election cycle, second only to jobs and the economy.
The importance of disclosure was reiterated at the discussion, entitled “The Capital Behind Capitol Hill: Developments in Campaign Finance in the 2012 Election Cycle.” Eliza Carney, Staff Writer for CQ and Roll Call, exposed a fundamental flaw in the arguments of Sen. Mitch McConnell (KY) and other Senators who filibustered the DISCLOSE Act, arguing “if you buy the intimidation and harassment argument [against disclosure] then that would logically be applied to donors to political parties.”
So, how come party donors need to disclose, and how have they dodged the torrent of harassment that McConnell & Co. say awaits corporate donors after DISCLOSE? Is there some difference between party bankrollers and independent ones?
Whether the clear shift of spending power from political parties to independent groups is good or bad for our democracy depends on who you ask. Robert Kelner, chair of Covington’s Election and Political Law Practice Group, suggests that this has increased the competitiveness of our elections. In this cycle, there is a “much better pluralism of speech,” he offered.
Some would define pluralism in terms besides the amount of dollars spent on attack ads. Merriam-Webster may provide a valuable insight into the meaning of this term.
Pluralism (noun)- a state of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain an autonomous participation… within the confines of a common civilization.
As a matter of fact, public matching funds would bring more pluralism to our democracy than superPACs ever could. According to Michael Malbin, Executive Director at the Campaign Finance Institute, public financing necessarily brings more people into the process because it encourages candidates to reach out to poorer neighborhoods. This is an environment where small donations make a difference.
Sorry Mr. Kelner, but unless you want to rewrite the dictionary, a political climate in which a candidate is forced to respect the outlandish theories of Donald Trump over blue-collar moderates, simply on the basis of money, will never be pluralism.
To some people, pluralism is very black and white. “I need to get 50.1 percent or more, and I’m appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people,” said Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Others, however, realize that true pluralism requires a diversity of opinion and perspective- a diversity that superPACs by, for, and of the 1% will never bring.
Corey Goldstone is a Syracuse Orangeman, braving the harsh winters to study American Political Science with a Concentration in Public Policy and the Legal System. He has volunteered for a local Obama reelection movement, interned for the Federal Affairs office of CSX, and worked for New York State constituents at Senator Charles Schumer’s CNY Office. His interest is in exposing the roadblocks to democracy that prevent everyday citizens from accessing electoral politics.