Today’s the day to follow the campaign money

Katherine Kehoe
Katherine Kehoe

From Katherine Kehoe, a campaign organizer for the North Carolina Public Interest Research Group:

Today, journalists, analysts and policy wonks will sift through the enormous campaign finance filings submitted by super PACs to the Federal Election Commission, but everyone already knows what they’ll find. Wealthy special interests are spending obscene amounts of money to influence who gets to run for and win the presidency.

It’s not only a national trend; it’s happening in North Carolina. Last year’s Senate race between former Sen. Kay Hagan and Sen. Thom Tillis was the most expensive Senate race of all time, totaling about $113 million spent. According to The Center For Responsive Politics, $81 million of that money came from outside groups with no donor contribution limits.

But why does it matter where the money comes from? Well, when outside groups get to spend whatever they want in elections, their money and interests are worth more to candidates than taking the time to listen to what voters want. In 2012 it took only 32 donors to super PACs to match every single small donor contributing $200 or less to Obama and Romney combined. That means just 32 donors matched the giving of 3.7 million Americans – and the next election could be even worse.

Meanwhile, Americans of all political stripes are ready for reform. A recent New York Times/CBS News Poll found four in five Americans think money plays too great a role in political campaigns. A majority in both parties thinks elected officials are more likely to listen to and promote the policies favored by their donors, as opposed to their voters and constituents.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Last week, U.S. PIRG and 11 other leading good-government organizations laid out a 21st Century Democracy Agenda.

“Fighting Big Money, Empowering People,” is based on five core principles of democracy: everyone participates, everyone’s voice is heard, everyone knows who is trying to influence our views and our representatives, everyone plays by fair, commonsense rules and everyone is held accountable with enforceable penalties.

From these principles, a set of key policies has emerged. Ultimately, we must pass a constitutional amendment to clarify that the Supreme Court got it wrong when it equated money with speech.

We should also implement more immediate measures to shift political power back to everyday people. We can set up small donor incentive programs, which allow candidates who reject large and corporate contributions to remain competitive by providing public matching funds for small contributions.

This type of small donor public financing program is already working in New York City. In the 2013 city council race, candidates participating in the program raised more than 60 percent of their funds from small donors when the matching funds were factored in. Chapel Hill became the first municipality in North Carolina to adopt a campaign public-financing program before the General Assembly ended the program in 2012.

Similar reforms will be on the ballot this November as well, spanning from Maine to Seattle. The next president should take this as a cue that these reforms are wantedand take strong action to ensure every American, regardless of how deep his or her pockets are, has an equal voice in our elections.