By Steven J. Rubert
America is gearing up for mid-term elections. The entirety of the House of Representatives and one third of the Senate could change, and with those changes could come devastating or wonderful new legislation. More importantly, American voters have the opportunity to choose who will represent them in the legislative branch of the federal government.
Or do they? In the recent Supreme Court decision McCutcheon v. FEC, the decision revolved around the amounts of money introduced into our federal elections. The ruling asked whether there should be an aggregate limit on campaign contributions when there is already an individual limit which may be contributed to each candidate. The case induced much hand wringing over the appearance of corruption. Somewhat lost in this discussion is the very concept of representation. Who are our representatives representing? And why?
Here are the facts as we know them. “In the 2011–2012 election cycle, appellant McCutcheon contributed to 16 different federal candidates,” the court wrote, and “[McCutcheon] alleges that the aggregate limits prevented him from contributing to 12 additional candidates.” Shaun McCutcheon, a conservative businessman from Alabama, could only have voted himself for two of these at most (there was no Alabama senatorial election in the 2011-2012 election cycle), leaving at least 14 candidates contributed to for elections that McCutcheon couldn’t vote in.
The Court decided to allow these contributions. Why? According to the Supreme Court, there is no corruption besides quid pro quo corruption.
“[S]pending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to quid pro quo corruption.”
The problem with this interpretation is that the contributor doesn’t have to dictate what the candidate does when they contribute in order to influence the election. The candidates broadcast in the clear what their intentions are if they win. By directly supporting a candidate, contributors are attempting to install a representative who will further their own personal motives. Why should a voter be able to help elect a representative charged with representing others?
Should McCutcheon have business interests in the other districts or states, his corporation could make contributions. If there is an issue he feels a particular representative will be especially influential on, McCutcheon could create or join a Political Action Committee and contribute based on that issue. In fact, any concerns that a voter has outside his district can be addressed in an election in which he cannot vote in a non-individual manner. After the Citizens United decision, there is no need to contribute individually.
It is impossible to conceive of a way in which there is not an appearance of corruption when a representative from Maine receives campaign contributions from a citizen registered to vote in California. That representative is now being supported in an election by a citizen who is not one of his constituents. This is the definition of corruption. Rather than worrying about how much money is being spent in campaigns, shouldn’t we worry about who the candidates are representing after they’ve won the election? Shouldn’t our representatives be elected in campaigns participated in only by their constituents? Isn’t that how elections are supposed to work? It should be no wonder that Congressional approval ratings are at an all-time low. It should be no wonder that we have a broken political system.
Reconciling these concerns with my strong belief in the right to free speech has not been easy. In looking for an alternative which allows citizens to spend their money as they see fit without creating the appearance of corruption, I have found one credible argument: reduce the power of the federal government. After all, who would want to buy a powerless politician? While the capacity of the government to do good things would be reduced, so would the incentive to corrupt its members. With a smaller budget and less regulatory authority, one could reduce corruption in government without limiting the right to free speech.
Another solution could be out there. Currently, there are two apparent options. Should we curtail the constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech to protect the integrity of our government, or curtail the power of our government to reduce the incentives of individuals to corrupt them?
Steven J. Rubert is a San Diegan, firearms enthusiast, and student of economics. He is a board member of Moderate Majority, a local non-profit working to end partisanship.
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: