For the first time in a generation, sweeping campaign finance reforms are on the verge of passing Congress. To reduce political corruption, we need real transparency about who is spending big money on elections.
Many of the provisions in the For the People Act (H.R. 1/S. 1) are designed to crackdown on corruption in both parties.
Specifically, they aim to mitigate the damage wrought by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to get their preferred politicians elected.
The bill would ensure transparency of corporate spending, prevent laundering of campaign funds through front organizations, and crack down on coordination between candidates and super PACs — all of these being problems created or exacerbated by the Supreme Court.
One argument that has been made against the For the People Act is that it will not strengthen American democracy because public opinion polling does not show a direct correlation between regulating money in politics and public trust in the political system.
This argument is both misguided and misleading. It overlooks the sweeping benefits the For the People Act would provide to our election system, and it fundamentally misidentifies the source of the current problems in that system.
There are two primary reasons for regulating money in politics: one is to reduce corruption; and the other is to preserve faith in our democratic process by reducing the appearance of corruption.
The For the People Act would significantly reduce actual corruption. For example, as mentioned above, it would ban improper coordination between candidates and super PACs.
It would empower small donors to have a meaningful voice in the campaign system. It would keep foreign money out of our elections.
In these ways and others, the For the People Act would crack down on many of the abusive financial practices that distort legislative outcomes and directly corrupt our representative democracy.
The bill would also restructure the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the federal agency that is supposed to police the rules around money in politics--but has utterly failed at that mission for years--and is in desperate need of an overhaul.
These anti-corruptive effects alone would make a significant difference in restoring the functionality of American government. And because of them, the For the People Act is well worth passing.
Yet even if one disregards policy results and focuses exclusively on appearances, the effects of the bill would still be eminently positive.
The American campaign finance system is like a century-old house. It has good bones, but the roof sometimes leaks, pipes tend to burst at certain times of year, and electrical circuits get overloaded by modern appliances.
Hard-fought campaign finance reforms over the years insulated the pipes, upgraded the circuit breaker, and replaced some of the leakiest roof shingles.
Then, in 2010, the Supreme Court’s horrendous Citizens United decision set the house on fire. This fire — in the form of unlimited election spending by corporations and other special interests — burns stronger every cycle, consuming joists and studs and rafters.
Many of the upgrades we as a nation have made over the years are being turned to ash before our eyes.
So when Americans are asked “Are you happy with the state of your house?” it should come as no surprise that they are not.
In fact, Americans of all political persuasions are disgusted with the state of our campaign system. Rightly so — they know the Supreme Court has set it ablaze. Passing the For the People Act would go a long way toward putting out the fire.