In the two months after Republicans introduced the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), their massive tax overhaul in 2017, millionaires and billionaires “dramatically boosted” their political donations, contributing over $31 million in 60 days. This is just one the latest examples of the corrupting influence of money in politics.
While it makes sense that if a member of Congress shares one’s views, that person would donate to their campaign, the water becomes murkier when these two events happen in reverse. What we saw in 2017 was Republican lawmakers coming together to pass a tax bill that was widely unpopular to the majority of voters, but they supported it anyway because it was what wealthy donors wanted. Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) put it simply: “My donors are basically saying: ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’”
This admission that big donors were able to use the threat of withholding campaign donations to influence policy should concern all Americans, even those who supported the Republican tax bill. We should not have representatives who are compromising their duty to their constituents to appeal to wealthy donors. The single greatest problem with American politics today is that money has had more influence than anything else, including the majority of constituents.
Unfortunately, this tax cut payoff is not an isolated incident.
We can see another example of the influence big dollar donations hold over politicians in the money raised by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) in the last quarter of 2018. Sen. Collins raised over $1.8 million during this period, with the vast majority coming from outside the state. It ended up being her best fundraising quarter of her career, which just happened to occur after her controversial vote to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on a 50-48 vote. It’s hard to believe that timing is a coincidence.
This is not how a functional democracy works. Millionaires and billionaires should not have the outsized political power they do now, and money should not equal speech.Until we pass significant campaign finance reform, they will continue to dictate that policies which favor them be instituted at the local, state, and federal level. Less than the broad quid-pro-quo, I am worried about what this says for the future of political offices. If one can only run for office and be successful with the support of wealthy, powerful benefactors, we are going to see a certain type of candidate flourish, limiting the diversity of experience and perspectives represented in our halls of government.
That’s why we need Congress to vote on the most comprehensive voting rights and campaign finance reform package introduced in years, HR 1, the For The People Act. Not only would this bill limit the influence of big dollar donations by creating a federal matching program for small dollar donations, but it would create nonpartisan redistricting committees to end gerrymandering, and institute national automatic voter registration. Republicans’ Tax Cuts and Jobs Act made clear that federal policy is up for sale to the biggest donors. The For The People Act will ensure that this is no longer the case.