Oregonians from across the political spectrum recognize that there is too much money in politics.
This summer, the Oregon Legislature passed a bipartisan resolution calling on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to allow for limits on the money raised and spent for political purposes, making Oregon the 16th state to pass such a measure. Despite the effort, the problem of money in politics could become substantially worse depending on the outcome of an upcoming court case.
Last week, the United States Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commissionto decide whether to give big-money donors even more power to make enormous political contributions.
Three and a half years ago, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Citizens United v. the FEC, bursting the dam and allowing wealthy donors to drown out the voices of regular Americans by spending unlimited money through outside groups to influence our elections. We saw the results of that decision playing out in unprecedented amounts of political money spent, coming from a small group of corporations, unions and wealthy individuals.
In fact, in 2012, 32 of the highest-spending mega-donors and special interests giving to outside groups like super PACs spent the same amount of money on the elections as every single small donor to Obama and Romney combined; that’s 32 donors to super PACs matching the gifts of over 3.7 million everyday Americans.
In the McCutcheon case, the court could worsen the problem by lifting the overall limits on what donors can give directly to all candidates, parties and PACs in a federal election cycle. If the limit is lifted, it would allow donors to give up to $7 million to every candidate for federal office — $7 million.
With trust in Congress at an all-time low, this is the worst time to let more money influence federal elections. Under this proposed new limit, it would take just 170 donors giving the maximum on party lines to match every single contribution of under $200 given to all federal candidates in 2012. In other words, millions of ordinary Americans who support candidates with their hard-earned money would find their political donations rendered nearly inconsequential by just a few big-money donors. This is the exact opposite of what Oregonians have chosen when the question has been put to them.
Oregon voters have a special history of standing up to big money in elections so that ordinary people can be heard. In 1994, an overwhelming 72 percent of voters, including a majority in every single county across the state, supported a ballot measure to limit the amount of money politicians could take and spend.
Regardless of the court’s decision in this current case, it is unquestionably the time for our state and federal representatives to take up the challenge of reclaiming our democracy.
Today, we urge our members of Congress to create a small donor empowerment program, with a tax credit for small contributions, to encourage more participation and matching funds for candidates who actively seek funds from a broad swath of their constituents. Such a measure would counteract big money in elections by amplifying the voice of the American public and take us one step closer to ensuring a government of, by and for the people.