The Problem of Campaign Finances – Artificial Persons vs. Natural Persons

By Wiha Powell

With the 2012 Presidential Election around the corner, candidates are traveling around the nation raising as much money as possible for their campaigns while securing voters. Receiving donations from both individuals and corporations/unions alike, the presidential candidates have already raised more than $186 million for the upcoming 2012 election, reported recently by the Federal Election Commission. However, the dilemma that the majority of Americans are once again faced with is the unlimited amount of funds which corporations donate to a particular candidate for purposes of influencing the outcome of the election. Hence, the question still remains, should a corporation (an artificial person’s) rights have precedence over individuals’ rights.

Over the years, the role of the American people has been drastically reduced in the democratic process of an election, which mostly stems from the 1886 US Supreme Court ruling in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, granting corporations the same rights as natural persons under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Also, in the 2010 case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have the same free speech protection as a U.S. citizen under the First Amendement of the U.S. Constitution; therefore, making it unconstitutional for the government to restrict the amount of money a corporation spends to influence elections. As a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the floodgates were opened allowing an unlimited amount of corporate funds to engulf elections, thereby lessening the amount of power the American people have to actually choose their elected officials.

Soon after the court’s ruling U.S. House Representative Chris Van Hollen, a Democratic House Representative of Maryland District 8, introduced the Democracy is Strengthen by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act (DISCLOSE), which was passed in the House of Representatives but later failed in the Senate. The goal of DISCLOSE was to amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 by creating a transparent apparatus that gives the general public more information regarding corporation and special interest campaign expenditures; moreover, placing a ban on U.S. corporations from using campaign contributions to influence elections.

On November 1, 2011, nine senators introduced a subsequent constitutional amendment to the Senate. The amendment, if passed, would overturn the ruling of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, by granting Congress and states the authority to regulate the campaign finance system. Thus, Congress and individual states would have the power to limit both corporate contributions and independent expenditures.

In a press release Senator Mark Udall, one of the nine senators stated, “As we head into another election year, we are about to see unprecedented amounts of money spent on efforts to influence the outcome of our elections. With the Supreme Court striking down the sensible regulations Congress has passed, the only way to address the root cause of this problem is to give Congress clear authority to regulate the campaign finance system.”

It is evident that the landmark cases of 1886 and 2010, in which the Supreme Court granted private corporations the same legal rights and protection under the Constitutions as citizens, has allowed corporations to use money as a form of expression and influence in elections.

It is now more apparent than ever that the American people are tired of the influence that the big corporations have on politics and our political leaders. Furthermore, with the Supreme Court refusing to allow Congress and states to control the role corporations play in influencing the outcome of elections, it is evident that there is a need for a drastic change. However, amending the constitution is not an easy process, but a handful of congressmen, Democrats, Independents and even some Republicans, are stepping up in hopes of overturning the court’s decision.  Moreover, several polls have indicated that the majority of Americans are in support of a legislation that places restrictions on corporate contributions influencing elections.

As we see, the dilemma American voters are faced with is simple. The candidate with the most campaign cash wins the election, and with the ruling of the Supreme Court, corporations can now control the outcome of elections to the extent that our electorates become corporate stooges and eventually the future of America will becomes a pun to big corporations.

It is clear that the answer to the problem of campaign finance is for candidates to limit the corporate contributions and independent expenditures that will influence the outcome of an election, thereby giving the power back the American people to choose their elected officials through a democratic process of election.

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