Alan J. Yeck
This is the second part of a three-part series.
Campaign Finance Corruption
Corruption in government, be it a monarchy (kings and queens), a dictatorship (North Korea) or a democracy, has always been, has always existed. Corruption in the United States government has always been, has always existed. The difference today is that information is more easily available in a much quicker time frame. Don’t confuse this with misinformation or disinformation, which is actively used by politicians and political parties to deflect from their own corruption. While there are scandals, which are corrupt, what we’re going to focus on is specific to campaign financing or who is paying for our elected officials to vote one way or the other. Hint – it’s not you or me.
Background on campaign finance reform in the U.S.
Before we had our own country to corrupt, in 1757, George Washington ran for a seat in the House of Burgesses for the Virginia Colony – kind of like today’s equivalent of a state legislator. He threw a big party for potential voters with lots of alcohol and great food. Washington was elected to the seat and then almost immediately the House of Burgesses passed an act prohibiting candidates from giving any sort of “reward” like food, drink or cash in exchange for a vote.
Now let’s jump to the 1904 presidential election. Incumbent Republican President Theodore Roosevelt was running against Democratic nominee, Alton B. Parker. To make sure he won the election, he raised over $2 million in campaign contributions from corporations (that would be the equivalent of $59 million today – a record amount at that time). Teddy won but not without a scandal from his corporate fundraising. In response to the scandal Roosevelt called for legislation to ban corporate contributions to future candidates. Ha! Roosevelt signed into law the Tillman Act in 1907 which banned corporate donations but the Act had no teeth, no enforcement provisions were included so politicians just crawled on their bellies around it.
A few years later in 1910 the House passed the Federal Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) that required candidates to disclose both campaign spending and the sources of all contributions. The Senate passed an amendment in 1911 requiring the same and also placed limitations on spending for all congressional candidates. Sounds great, right? ‘Sound’ as in an empty gong though.
After Henry Ford lost a senate race to Truman Newberry in 1918, Ford charged that Newberry violated the spending limit laws of the Federal Corrupt Practices Act by raising over $100,000 for his campaign. Newberry was convicted in 1921 but his conviction was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court (Newberry v. United States) who struck down spending limits. The Court ruled that the Federal Corrupt Practices Act was unconstitutional because the Constitution does not grant Congress the authority to regulate political parties or federal primary elections. This was the fertile soil of corruption that today’s mighty, corrupt political beanstalk grew from.
Legislation continued through the mid-1900s trying to limit the political influence corporations could wield, as well as the growing unions and trade associations. In the 1940s, Congress passed the Smith-Connally and Taft-Hartley Acts banning labor unions from contributing directly to political campaigns. This is the true birth of our corrupted political system today – not the Act but the response to it.
Labor unions then created Political Action Committees or PACs and the effects have been complete destruction to our democracy. 1) because PACs were not unions, per se, PACs could contribute money to candidates and still be within campaign finance guidelines, and 2) PACs were not required to follow the political advertising and spending laws that the candidates had to follow. They could spend as much as they wanted to advertise and promote their candidates to their members and the public in general without ever giving a dime directly to the candidate’s campaign.
In an attempt to truly reform campaign finance laws (or at least give the appearance of doing so), in 1971 Congress passed the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA – not be confused with FECA-L matter which is another mainstay of Congress). This defined how much money candidates could spend on their campaigns. Again, toothless. They created the Act but did not appoint a body to enforce it. Think of a law that establishes the speed limit at 65mph but law enforcement doesn’t have any authority to pull someone over doing 100mph. Another great job by our elected morons. Later, in 1974, after the Watergate scandal, they refined FECA to create today’s bi-partisan Federal Election Commission (FEC) which is supposed to enforce campaign finance laws but has become non-functioning in recent years.
The following year, Sen. James Buckley (R-NY) sued the FEC (Buckley v. Valeo) arguing that limits on campaign spending violated free speech rights. In 1976 the Supreme Court agreed and the Act was amended which meant politicians had unlimited campaign spending. The Court also found that the provision restricting the amounts candidates could spend from their personal funds, unconstitutional. This has very much created a system where an honest citizen who wants to serve their community and country must raise tremendous amounts of money, or already be a millionaire. Currently over half of the members of Congress were millionaires. Do you think a millionaire or career politician, who is also a millionaire, represents you?
This is the second article in a three-part series by Alan J. Yeck reflecting on the state of the American political system, its challenges and the far-reaching effects it can have.
We have the power to change American politics back to a system that serves the people, not the politicians. Contact your representatives and ask them to listen to these facts and national narratives.