Moments after this year’s gubernatorial recall election was called for incumbent Gov. Scott Walker, left-wing propagandist Lawrence O’Donnell was on MSNBC calling foul play because of the tremendous financial advantage Walker had from big money donations to his campaign that officially kicked off the “Citizens United” era of politics. While the extreme left will say this somehow undermines the legitimacy of the remainder of Walker’s term, I understand that he won the election fair and square, and while I do not like his politics, the state of Wisconsin has spoken.
I am, however, disturbed by this new era. In the past there have been laws and regulations that facilitated electoral fairness. But today we are in an era where money plays an increasingly large and corrupting role in our civic process. I fear a future in which the will of the money drowns out the will of the voters.
There is no way to determine whether or not unregulated campaign contributions swayed the electorate to reelect Walker. The Walker campaign did have a 7-to-1 advantage in funding, as reported by Salon. Much of Walker’s funds came from donations that exceeded the previous campaign spending cap of $2,500 under McCain-Feingold, as The Nation showed. While Walker had a very clear financial advantage, he was only able to win with a modest 54 percent of the vote, CBS news reports. Walker was only able to decimate Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett on the financial front because the Citizens United decision overturned this $2,500 cap on donations. It is very possible that had there been a level playing field, as there would have been under McCain-Feingold, Tom Barrett would be our governor.
This is not an indictment of Walker specifically, nor of the Republican Party. Had the Democrats been able to gain this large of an advantage, they surely would have. In the future, both parties will certainly attempt to out-raise the other by any means necessary.
The problem is the political world will become less open to the populist will as it becomes more dominated by big spenders and industries. While the courts may see corporations as being entitled to free speech, I feel the political system was made to serve the public and not consist of profiteers trying to deregulate their industry. Do you really want big tobacco or big oil to be able to spend unlimited money on any campaign they want?
The issue is not Democrats against Republicans or politicians against citizens; it’s people against money. The ultimate outcome of this fight will determine whether we live in a representative democracy or a representative oligarchy. Cynics will say money has already taken over, that corporate lobbies write their own legislation, that Democrats are in the pockets of the unions and Republicans are in the pocket of big business. To some degree the cynics are right, but I believe that at least in some sense, the interest of the people is still served. If the right to elect is taken from the people and given to corporations, the government is no longer a reflection of the citizens. It is no longer our government.
Citizens United was a dangerous decision that enabled money to influence our politics in ways it never should. The prospect of corporations buying elections is sickening. It could take years for this horrible decision to be overturned. We, as the electorate, must be aware of the interests behind political ads. We cannot allow candidates to buy elections or the American system as we know it will falter. This decision must either be overturned or legislatively nullified. Democracy is not a luxury for those who can afford it.
Spencer Lindsay ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science.