A Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday that erased some of the limits on individual campaign spending won’t produce freer or fairer elections in this country and certainly won’t increase our dismal turnout.
The previous law limited individual contributions to political committees and federal candidates to an aggregate total of $123,200 over a two-year election cycle. Individual candidates are still limited to a maximum individual contribution of $5,200, but there’s no longer any limit on how many different candidates can receive that $5,200 from one person.
Let’s do the math. The law the justices struck down with a 5-4 decision kept individual contributions to $61,600 or less per year.
The average person cannot contribute the price of a 2015 Chevy Tahoe to a political party or candidate per year. And the line between contributing the price of that Tahoe and the price of a new Aston Martin Vanquish ($325,000) or more, when you’ve got money to toss around like that, isn’t very thick.
That’s certainly not to say that there should be limits on how many greenbacks some poor soul can burn on political contributions. I don’t like being told how to spend my money — I like how the government spends it even less — and I wouldn’t want the responsibility of taking that spending freedom from someone else.
The Supreme Court struck down the limits with a First Amendment argument and, as a journalist, I’m happy any time those rights are expanded. It’d be nice if the Court would look at some other speech and expression issues with the same liberality they take with big money in politics, but that’s another column for another day.
But, to be clear — this law has no effect upon your crazy uncle who writes a $500 check to the Democratic Party every year. We’re talking about powerful people, people who have the ability to influence elections and guide a politician’s vote with their checkbooks.
If the Supreme Court decides the Constitution allows that, then fine. People should be able to spend their money and express their political leanings in whatever way they please.
But the identity of those major donors should be public information, just like the major donor list for Super-PACs should be in the public sphere.
Elections and politics are sacred in this country, and transparency and openness is one of the major advantages that our system has over others. I don’t think the disclosure of major donors should be a tool to discourage the participation of the wealthy in the political process, but the American public has a right to know who owns our politicians.
Michael Gebelein is managing editor of the Lincoln Times-News.