If you are like me, you get plenty of political solicitations. There is an endless cycle of fundraising for the national parties, state parties, Senate and House campaigns, state campaigns, and local races. It takes an incredible amount of money to run a campaign. A state legislative race in some places could require candidates to raise millions of dollars, an amount that used to be reserved for U.S. Senate and Presidential races. Such an amount is truly excessive and outrageous for state and local races, but unfortunately that is the state of our politics today. To run for office requires a candidate to spend their days boldly asking for money as a full-time job. To successfully raise sufficient amounts of money, candidates often routinely go outside their district and even their state. Hence the dilemma.
Saving for another day the principle of unlimited corporate campaign spending outlined in the infamous Citizens United case, I want to focus on the issue of out of state money. There are two types of out of state money. There are individual donors who send a personal contribution, ostensibly because they are inspired by the words or actions of a candidate in another state. With all the TV coverage, it makes sense that leaders may gain supporters or foes from other states. Then there is big money. There are several mega donors that send large amounts of money to various candidates around the country and who fund political action groups that spend millions trying to elect or defeat candidates in all states.
There is an argument that while each state has 2 U.S. Senators that represent the entire state, because there are “only” 100 Senators, the Senate conducts the nation’s business, and every vote often matters, in essence the entire nation is interested in all 100 Senators. One must concede that any Senator’s vote can certainly impact the nation and citizens interested in specific legislation or policy are interested in those votes. However, officially and per the Constitution, each Senator represents the millions of residents of their state and only the citizens of the state get to choose their Senator (originally, the Constitution stated that Senators would be appointed by the Governor but was later amended to call for popular election).
Similarly, there are 435 Representatives in the House divided among the states by population. Representatives serve the districts that elect them, and only members of the district may case votes in that race. Like the Senate, the House does the nation’s business, although with so many more votes, one member is not as pivotal as with the Senate. Therefore, should not each Senator be chosen by the people of their state? Do not the people of each state have the opportunity, if not obligation, to select their Senators based on policy views, leadership, and any criteria they deem important? If you cannot vote for Senators in other states, why should you be able to influence the vote in such other states by funding those campaigns. The same argument applies to the House – if you cannot vote in the race, why should you be able to influence the vote with sums of money?
The Supreme Court has equated political contributions with political speech and equated political speech with free speech. That is a critical foundation that influences and makes more complex this discussion. The concept of free speech includes that there is no hierarchy of speech. All views are protected without regard to popularity, evaluation, or funding. If you live in a smaller, less populous, and less prosperous state, your vote for your representatives is just as important as the vote of an individual from a larger, more populous, more prosperous state. You elect your own government officials.
Take these two examples. You live in a small, rural state with an instilled gun culture and gun ownership is important in the elections for Congress. Should big money from California funnel into your state to push into office a candidate sympathetic to gun control efforts important in California, but contrary to the views of your state? Alternatively, you live in a state hit hard by climate change and that is the critical issue in your races. Should big money from Texas flood your election to ensure a candidate wins that will not vote for climate change measures contrary to the needs of your state? This is not how representative government is supposed to work.
By allowing out of state money, especially big money, the result is that people or entities from outside of a state influence the electoral results. The free speech rights of people in the state in effect are subjugated by the free speech of people or entities from outside the state. The citizens who were by Constitutional authority the only ones permitted to cast votes in their elections thus enjoy a lower level of free speech than the outsiders influencing their election results. The voters in the district or state solely determine who represents them and their free speech should never be given a secondary status to outside interests. That is the challenge and that is the response to the Supreme Court. By allowing unfettered money, especially big money, from out of state, the Supreme Court would be declaring the out of state interests’ rights are superior to the citizens’ rights because of the incredible impact it has on the results.
It is illegal for U.S. campaigns to receive foreign donations. There is very little opposition to this law because people overwhelmingly agree that foreign entities should not be deciding who serves in the Congress or White House. Not only is this “America’s” business which the people believe should be sacrosanct, but foreign donations would likely come with expectations resulting in changes to U.S. foreign policy, trade policy, etc. The logic is clear and uncontroverted. With that said, isn’t the argument extraordinarily similar that out of state money poses much the same problem?
This challenge cannot likely be resolved without an overall measure addressing campaign financing. However it is done, it is imperative to ensure that the citizens of each state and district are the ones choosing their elected representatives.