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The Greyhound

In spite of Super PACs, your vote belongs to you


This year marks the time for the 45th presidential election. Among the many issues that will be discussed — both within the campaigns, as well as outside of them — is the recurring question of campaign finance reform. While the country will once again be engrossed in an almost existential conflict over this concern, it is worth noting that its impact to you, the reader, can be entirely controlled by you. Advertisements are only as effective as you let them be.

The arguments that have been made both for and against this seemingly untamable matter are numerous, but generally speaking, are the following: Money equates to speech and therefore to restrict the ability to spend money on campaign advertisement would be a violation of the First Amendment. Or, unrestricted funding for campaign causes grants limitless power to a select few individuals, threatening the basic liberties inherent to citizenship, especially those concerning the ability to choose one’s own government.

Before one delves into the complicated depths of this issue, it is important to determine how exactly this situation came about. Election finance regulation has existed, at least in a relevantly official capacity, since the 1970s. After the government had finally been able to crack down on political machines, state-wide organizations dedicated to maintaining political and civil power under a de facto, sometimes private leadership, candidates began taking a more personalized interest in gathering greater funds for their campaigns.

It was determined that regulation was necessary to prevent certain candidates with much greater influence from simply amassing large amounts of funding from select donors and utilizing it to ensure their victory. From the ‘70s onward, the debate constantly raged over whether there was not enough regulation, or too much. A number of laws, agencies and federal court cases were passed, created and decided, respectively, but regardless of whatever was done, there would always be someone who claimed it was too little or too overbearing.

Perhaps the most important development in this conflict occurred in 2010, when the Supreme Court decided 5-4 in “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” that Political Action Committees, PACs, that were not directly working with a specific candidate’s campaign could be free to raise unlimited funding for political advocacy. The decision shaped the brunt of the controversy the country now faces, as the proliferation of “Super PACs” has fueled growing concern that politics is increasingly controlled by wealthy donors, and that the massive amounts of spending by both parties needs to be reeled in.

But one should question why PACs, and campaign finance in general, are so effective. The money is not simply buying votes; citizens must still take it upon themselves to go to the polls and cast their ballot. This decision remains theirs alone.

So how exactly does campaign finance influence voters? It varies from campaign to campaign. The general consensus is that the money, particularly funds raised by Super PACs, which cannot be associated with any campaign, is used to fund political ads, often attack ads. If these ads were only part of a citizen’s understanding of the political landscape, built upon informing oneself of a candidate’s political history, personal platform and other relevant information, then the impact of TV attack commercials would be minimal. The problem occurs when a citizen’s only source of information comes from biased political advertisements. If this were the case, as it likely is today for a large number of Americans, then one could see how powerful and dangerous limitless funding for such ads could be.

But while the country considers whether it even has the authority to restrict such a capability, it is worth noting that the power to usurp the influence of unchained political financing rests in the hands of every citizen. As noted before, the effect of political ads, particularly attack ads, is minimized if one has taken it upon themselves to understand the character and proposed policies of a candidate. Obviously this endeavor is not helped by the fact that a good portion of the news media tends to be biased itself, thus making it difficult to attain impartial information. Nevertheless, informing oneself of the issues completely undermines the impact of a flashy but shallow commercial.

I acknowledge that in the past — and again now — that there are many people in this country who simply do not have the time or resources to fully research in preparation for an election. But the fact remains that there are citizens who could very well free themselves from the influence of extensive political financing, and simply don’t. The vote still belongs to the people. All they need do is figure out how to use it.

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In spite of Super PACs, your vote belongs to you