As we draw closer to the November election, it becomes clearer that this year’s contest, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, will be financially dominated by big money, including, whether directly or indirectly, big money from the treasuries of corporations of all kinds. Without a significant change in how our campaign finance system regulates the influence of corporations, the American election process, and even the Supreme Court itself, face a more durable, long-term crisis of legitimacy. For years, our political process was governed by an underlying principle: large organizations, primarily corporations, were not allowed to buy their way into elections. For 100 years, our laws reflected this principle. First, Congress passed the Tillman Act in 1907, which prohibited corporations from using their treasuries to influence federal elections. Signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, the legislation recognized what had become abundantly clear: corporate influence corrupts elections. Later, under the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, Congress extended the same prohibition to labor unions. For generations, these regulations provided the bedrock of our election law that followed, including the landmark Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act passed in 2003. And for several election cycles, between 2004 and 2008, our system seemed headed towards more fair and transparent elections. But Citizens United changed everything.
Unfortunately, in the early 1990s, Democratic lawyers and strategists exploited a loophole created by the FEC in the late 1970s. They created “soft money” writ large—a system that allowed the solicitation of unlimited contributions to the political parties from corporations, labor unions, and individuals. This system was corrupting—Senators would solicit gigantic, unregulated contributions from the same corporations that had legislation pending on the Senate floor. Both parties were guilty. By the peak of the 2002 cycle, combined soft money raised from both Republican and Democratic committees reached nearly $500,000,000.
After many years of work, and on the heels of the infamous Enron scandal, Senator John McCain and I won our battle and closed the soft money loophole with the enactment of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (“BCRA”), better known as the McCain-Feingold bill. The law’s most significant provision, which remains the law of the land today, prohibits parties from raising (and elected officials from soliciting) unlimited contributions.
Full Article: The Money Crisis – Stanford Law Review.