Is it Time For the Public Financing of Elections?

Florida is being Forced to Reform its Voting Rights Restoration System

A careful read of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission would appear to indicate that the only way to preserve our democracy is to avoid any means of disproportionate influence — which the Supreme Court (SC) has failed to do.

My first blog on the Citizens United decision argued that a gross imbalance of money on one side of two opposing business entities greatly diminish the chances of the other. It seems evident that whether a product or an idea, the same reality applies. Yet the Court’s holding in its Citizens United decision ignored this reality and refrained from arguing that “equalizing the relative inability of individuals and groups to influence the outcome of elections” is part of the SC’s duties.

Fair enough — but this ruling has compounded the sizable influence of corporations in our elections and — worse — greatly expanded the favored access and proportional influence of highly wealthy individuals in a society that is already reeling from growing inequality. This was never the intention of our forefathers; on the contrary, their whole point in the First Amendment was to preserve the rights of ordinary individuals against concentrated power, i.e. government.

It is not my point to ban corporate speech. It is a given that corporations, particularly those with large research budgets and resulting expertise, must have an important say in the marketplace of ideas. The depth of their research, the quality of their expertise, and the application of their findings are vital to society at large. On the other hand, it is not as if they had no means to participate in the marketplace of ideas before Citizens United. According to the minority opinion written by Stevens, corporations were provided ample opportunity to express opinions separately through PACs. Why change? I would contend that two developments of modern society have been ignored and justify revisiting the Citizens United ruling: the 24 hour news cycle and the fact that increased concentration of wealth diminishes the marketplace of ideas and does not favor “more speech” as the majority opined in their ruling.

With respect to the news cycle, I have experienced this first hand. While working as a public affairs specialist for a pharmaceutical corporation, I participated in several press conferences for the introduction of new products. I have seen my words published “as written.” This is not a complaint, just a fact. How can a journalist, even a specialized one, evaluate a new pharmaceutical in the spate of hours to meet a deadline when a corporation has accumulated data and first hand experience of the product over the span of eight years and more? There is just no time for an objective evaluation.

With respect to the concentration of wealth. Why should a Sheldon Adelson, or a Peter Steyer, be able to have such influence? The former on our foreign policy, the latter to request impeachment of our president on television. As you may note, I purposely chose individuals with diametrically opposed ideological viewpoints. My point here is to show that allowing such enormous influence from one individual is preposterous. I do not dispute what they propose, one way or the other, but merely wish to underscore how far we have strayed from a real democracy. Why is the Mercer family, or the Koch family allowed to “pipeline” (pun intended) millions of dollars to politicians to support their views? Is that what our forefathers intended? Why should the National Riffle Association be allowed to inject $42 million in our last presidential election to promote candidates that adhere to their views on protecting gun rights when a large majority of the population want more sensible restrictions? Is that democracy?

The Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United vs. FEC has proven that it is incapable of upholding our democracy with its ruling. It has failed to see how its majority ruling has exacerbated an already distorted democracy in favor of concentrated power where equal chances of all participants to contribute to the marketplace of ideas has become a myth.

It is high time to adopt public financing of our elections.

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