A few wealthy contributors gain outsized influence in elections

| January 26, 2015

Editorial by News and Observer, January 25, 2015.

t’s not a formula for elections that feature full-throated discussions of issues important to average Americans and North Carolinians. As David McLennan, political scientist of Meredith College, put it: “We’re finding that the percentage of American contributors to political campaigns or political groups is going down and the influence of wealthy individuals is going up.”

Just 50 North Carolinians gave federal candidates and committees $4.5 million since the U.S. Supreme Court, in its unfortunate Citizens United ruling in 2010, opened the floodgates for big money contributors. The ruling declared corporations were people for purposes of political contributions and upended campaign finance laws.

Ever since, individuals and special interest groups have peeled off wads of cash for candidates and advertising, resulting most recently in the North Carolina U.S. Senate race becoming the most expensive statewide race in history, over $100 million total spent.

But McLennan’s point is most clearly made with numbers such as this: 10 North Carolinians gave almost $2 million toward candidates and party committees in the last election cycle. Those 10 people and their issues, one can be assured, will get considerably more attention than the concerns of regular voters.

And the election process, thanks to the high court, also is flooded by anonymous donors who give through nonprofits that can shield the names of givers.

America desperately needs campaign finance reform that can stand up to court challenges. And let us hope higher courts will recognize that campaign laws must be allowed to evolve. There is division on this already: Citizens United was a 5-4 decision after all. There must be new laws to protect democracy from the “for sale” signs. In the meantime, it seems the voices of average Americans grow more faint with each election.

Category: NC SPIN Perspectives - Opinions from NC Leaders & Organizations

Comments (3)

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  1. Tom Hauck says:

    In order to compete against the candidate chosen by the N&O and other mainstream media, that opposing candidate must raise advertising funds to overcome the pervasive (free) positive news stories offered by the N&O and other free media. Your editorial does not mention how beholden to the N&O, a favored candidate must be.
    What is the difference between a candidate beholden to the N&O and a candidate beholden to some other rich donors?

    I would agree with the editorial — cut off all Citizens United funding if the N&O refused to mention any candidates.

    • Richard Bunce says:

      I would just as soon not get into the trading of First Amendment protections. More speech is always better than less speech, a let the voter decide which speech they find credible.

  2. Richard Bunce says:

    Hypocrisy again from the N&O. Persons do not lose their First Amendment speech protections when speaking within a for profit corporate structure using corporate resources no more than persons lose their First Amendment press protections when performing press functions within a for profit corporate structure using corporate resources. The USSC CU ruling supports all persons and their First Amendment protections… including the N&O political editorials like this one.

    Candidates raising campaign funds and spending it on TV ads and other groups spending on TV ads does not win elections. Getting the most votes from the voters wins elections. The candidates with the most votes from NC residents won the 2014 elections. The N&O cannot seem to accept that result although they were OK with the 2012 Presidential election when massive amounts of campaign funds were also spent.

    I also expect the N&O accepted significant ad money from political campaigns and advocacy groups in the last election cycle.

    Sadly a for profit corporation publishing a newspaper editorial takes advantage of their First Amendment press protections to advocate for limiting other peoples First Amendment speech protections.