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Participation is the answer to election finance woes

Election campaigns, originally affairs lasting a few months, have become 2-year-long festivals of debate. Debate over policy, debate over candidates, and debate over what influence money should have in an election. This final issue has come into quite a controversial light in the most recent set of elections. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruled that restrictions on campaign funding, set largely by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, were unconstitutional. This led to the rise of infamous “Super-PACs,” Political Action Committees with virtually limitless resources to devote to the candidates of their choice.

The 2012 election saw an exponential increase in campaign finance in all sectors of election possible. Many see this as a significant problem, because it may quickly deteriorate into a battle of dollars instead of a battle of votes.

But dollars don’t have to equate to votes. The greatest political advertisement has no guarantee of success, and this is as it should be. In an ideal election, money is almost irrelevant rather than limited. A country of discerning and responsible citizens can conduct such an election.

One way to distinguish citizens in the modern era is to categorize them into three groups defined by their political culture. These categories are parochial, subject, and participant. Parochial is a term sometimes used politically to refer to one who is not focused on central government. A subject is one who is aware of the central government and has a basic understanding of it, but otherwise does not directly engage in it beyond the basic responsibilities of a citizen.

A participant, on the other hand, is a citizen who engages in the political process in some direct way. These could mean anything from public demonstrations to running for political office, but the most common participation in modern democracies is done by voting. The preliminary analysis for the 2012 Presidential Election turnout shows that around 57 percent of eligible voters participated in the election, meaning that just over half of the country actually voted while the other half remained subjects.

In terms of responsibility, those who truly believe that elections are an important part of the process (i.e. active participants) should be responsible for their own information and not wait for it to be presented on a deceptively silver platter by an advertisement.

Obviously rallying one’s supporters and giving them inspiration to be involved in an important part of our political process but, for responsible citizens, a nonstop string of ads should not be the defining factor in one’s choice. The state of political advertisement has stretched beyond informative persuasion, and has descended into to mud-slinging and borderline slander. In the modern Information Age, the data necessary to make the choice is almost certainly present online from the moment the candidate announces their run, until the polls close. One need only keep an open and informed mind, and expunge petty or irrelevant details slung out by negative ad campaigns in order to make the best possible choice. People will come to different conclusions from the same data as a result of their experiences, interests, personal opinions, etc., but their vote will have been determined by them, not purchased by another.

This is not to say that there are those who do not already make decisions this way, or to assume that those who simply do not have the time to actively devote to politics are irresponsible people. Many in today’s United States are faced with innumerable stressors and difficulties, living paycheck to paycheck. As a result, they have little time to pay attention to politics. It is simply a lack of time, a trap which political campaigns can unfortunately exploit.

Even so, this should not be a compelling reason for anyone, particularly university students with great access to political resources, to cast impulsive votes based solely on the effectiveness of a candidate’s campaign or to ignore any possible merits in an opposing party’s candidate.

Campaign advertising has been honed to a razor’s edge, and when backed by limitless funds it can be overwhelming. But no matter how much money campaigners and advertisers spend, exchange and wave their money around, they can never make you sell your vote. That choice is, always and ultimately, up to you.

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Participation is the answer to election finance woes