By Margaret Johnson
In the 2010 Supreme Court decision “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission,” the Court changed the way money could be spent in elections at all levels. The ruling gave corporations the ability to spend an unlimited amount of money on promoting political campaigns and candidates.
While this case was discussed at the federal level, the ruling heavily influences state elections, such as the gubernatorial election in Wisconsin. The ongoing campaign between Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democrat Mary Burke is heavily funded by out-of-state interest groups. These contributors have special interests and by effectively providing their chosen candidate with contributions, they are seeking to buy results and ultimately buy legislature.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as of August, Burke raised a total of nearly 6 million dollars while Walker had collected over 18.5 million dollars from contributors. Over two-thirds of Burke’s contributions were made from within the state of Wisconsin, while the rest were primarily from California, New York and Illinois. Top contributors to Burke’s campaign include Burke’s own personal funds, the Wisconsin Education Association Council PAC and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers PAC.
Less than half of Scott Walker’s campaign finances derive from contributors inside of the state of Wisconsin. The majority of his campaign is funded by outside sources. There are eight states, not including Wisconsin, that have contributed over a quarter of a million dollars to Walker’s campaign.
Even more shocking are the contributions of Florida, Texas and California, which have each given Walker’s campaign over a million dollars. Primary contributors include the Republican Party of Wisconsin, the Caterpillar Inc. Employee PAC (based out of Washington D.C.) and Fred Fehsenfeld, a businessman from Indiana.
Our political destiny should not be greatly influenced by special interests interceding and buying elections. However idealistic it may seem, candidates should be elected because the majority of the people align with the views and values of the candidate, not because one candidate was able to produce a larger, flashier campaign and gain more exposure than his or her opponent.
The use of big money from special interest groups and corporations undermines the individual citizen’s vote. If corporations can influence elections, then both citizens and candidates are manipulated by corporate institutions. The citizen sees what the corporation funds buy, whether that be a slanderous, untrue ad about their chosen candidate’s opponent or an ad that exalts their candidate and promises things the candidate cannot deliver.
The candidate’s views and values are also compromised once they intermingle with special interest groups and corporations. The candidate is aware that with more money comes more exposure. The candidate needs money, and corporations broker deals in order to advocate their own special interests—interests that aren’t in the general public’s interest.
The candidates reshape their views to align with corporations and move further away from the needs of citizens. Corporations aren’t going to be interested in promoting the education of children, protecting the benefits of teachers or providing welfare benefits to struggling citizens—especially if those citizens aren’t residents of their own state. Corporations care about money, power and how they can get more money and power.
The brokerage between the political elite and the corporate elite also creates a gap between the government and its citizens. If citizens know their support is meaningless in comparison with corporate elites, citizens lose incentive to actively participate in elections and the government as a whole. Civil society suffers when its citizens don’t take an active role, and the government becomes a conglomerate of elitists with minimal consideration of its citizens.
Further, the political elites have a greater likelihood of being re-elected because of their monetary connections. If the politician has pleased the corporation, he or she gains more funding and more exposure, and therefore buys his or her way into office. This leaves new, perhaps better suited candidates with a great disadvantage. In turn, citizens are at a great disadvantage because they are not being given credible representation, all because of money.
Considering that the wealthiest one percent of the United States’ population holds almost half of the country’s wealth, the wealthy are increasingly in more control of the direction of the government.
The top one percent have the greatest representation in government as they are most able to fund corporations as well as campaigns. Their interests are met, but those in the other 99% are left with less opportunity to influence elections; some are left with only the opportunity to assert their basic right to vote.
Money has always impacted elections nationally, but “Citizens United” led to the manipulation of elections on federal, state and local levels, often at the benefit of the corporation rather than the community. With that said, the importance of using the opportunity to vote is still crucial and influential. Informing yourself with a variety of sources on candidates’ campaign promises will ensure that your vote is effectively used.