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It’s all About the Money- Citizens United and its Impact on Elections

February 28, 2013 1 comment

The Citizens United decision broke new ground in the realm of campaign finance. Gone were the restrictions on corporate political speech (as long as they didn’t donate funds directly) and vague disclosure laws.

The landmark 5-4 decision opened up the election process to an influx of funds the likes of which the political world has never seen. The question becomes whether or not that flood of money negatively impacts the election process.

In class we were asked to not only consider that central question, but dig a little deeper into the history of campaign finance.

Before Citizens United, campaign finance reform underwent a few drastic and landmark changes. Daniel M. Shea explains that the most significant judicial decision impacting campaign finance in the modern era is Buckley v. Valeo, in which the court ruled that money is akin to speech and is protected but the amount of money that can be directly given to a candidate is limited. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (or BCRA) went further and forced candidates to gather funds from an increased number of small donors by banning “soft money” contributions.

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McCain (R-AZ), key proponent of BCRA (NYSIAF)

Citizens United took things a step further after the huge uptick in campaign spending during the 2008 election cycle. The case dealt with a specific clause of BCRA that “outlawed explicit campaigning by nonpartisan groups within 30 days of a general election and 60 days prior to a primary” and was elevated to the supreme court after Citizens United, a non-profit organization, tried to air a movie that was highly critical of Hillary Clinton.The result changed the nature of elections forever. By uprooting the precedent set for campaign finance restrictions, Citizens United v. FEC effectively injected more money into politics.

Allegations that said funding is harmful have been prominent. The preponderance of negative ads funded by Super PAC’s are disparaged and have left many worrying about the effect that money can have on the campaign system. Fortunately, I strongly believe that the potential benefits of increased funding far outweigh the pitfalls.

Perhaps the largest benefit of an increase in funding due to citizens united is the greater competition we see in the election process.

Before Citizens United, incumbents had a huge advantage in the election process. James Campbell, in a study from the State University of New York at Buffalo, analyzed 100 years of elections and came to the conclusion that incumbents have an edge for a couple of reasons.

  1. Incumbents have access to more funds, usually outspending their opponents by 3:1
  2. They have name-brand recognition after having held office

Now, after the Citizens United ruling, competition can come to the forefront because the incumbent advantages are significantly degraded nullified. Bradley Smith of US News explains that “In 2010 Democratic candidates and party committees outspent Republicans by approximately $200 million, but super PACs offset approximately $100 million of that.” Super PAC’s disproportionately support challengers and at the very least force incumbents to campaign hard to retain their spot.

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Herman Cain- chairman of Godfather’s Pizza and primary candidate (CSM)

The Republican presidential primary is a great example of this increase in competition. Usually, even the most competitive primary elections don’t have multiple candidates receive large amounts of media attention. The 2008 democratic primary was the most publicized in the pre-Citizens United era, and even there, the candidates were whittled down to two almost immediately. However, this election cycle, it seemed as though a new candidate was leading the Republican primary race each week. The only reason we knew who Herman Cain was, or the reason that Gingrich was able to break in late and challenge Romney is because inflows of funding made the process more competitive than it would have been otherwise.Ultimately, the passage of Citizens United has added money into elections. Although that addition is hotly debated, its ability to raise the competitive nature of elections creates a net increase in the information for American voters and stimulates interest to get people involved in elections.

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Congressional Grappling- Gridlock Surrounding Immigration Reform

February 22, 2013 1 comment

Immigration reform in the United States is quickly coming to a head. As the dust from the Presidential election settles and the nation collectively exhales after our near miss with the fiscal cliff, legislators have refocused on issues that drastically impact constituents of certain key demographics.

The Washington Post explains that the driving factor that has brought the GOP to the negotiating table has been the inability of the party to capture the Latino vote. Politico argues that the concerted interest by the Republicans combined with a push by the Democrats has made reform of American Immigration policy a top legislative priority on capitol hill this year. Minorities have successfully utilized the voting pathway of political action to force some measured level of political reform.

That theme of that reform has boiled down to one word: compromise.

Schumer, key Democratic player in 'Gang of 8'

Schumer (D-NY), key player in ‘Gang of 8’ (CNN)

Individuals on both sides of the aisle have realized that passing any comprehensive immigration reform package will require bipartisan support. CNN argues that  the realization of a need for bipartisan cooperation (specifically by key congressional powers such as Democratic Senator Schumer) has given way to the formation of what political pundits are calling the ‘gang of 8.’ The Washington post explains that the committee, consisting of 8 key senators (4 Democrats and 4 Republicans) have hammered out a package (of which a preliminary transcript is posted here) that rests on a couple of key planks. The first is increased border control, a non-negotiable issue for members of the GOP. The second is slightly more unconventional. In an effort to reach a true compromise, GOP members allowed for the inclusion of a path to citizenship in their reform package. The path, though long and arduous (it contains a number of key steps, the most notable of which is a requirement to pay fines and back taxes), is a key plank of the package that gives the Democratic senators on the committee something to back.

In addition to those key overarching planks, the National Review explains that the plan also demonstrates a concerted effort to improve the system of legal immigration to attract high skilled workers as well to improve employment verification and secure working rights for potential immigrants and existing illegal aliens already in the nation.

The president, in an effort to assume the role of chief legislator, has waded in and out of the immigration debate. The Washington Post explains that he most recently proposed a solution in Las Vegas as he “put the weight of his administration behind efforts to pass legislation” on Immigration Reform. Although his plan has been deemed unfeasible by Rubio (a key republican senator who is part of the ‘gang of 8’) he has brought immigration reform to the forefront. The National Journal explains that Obama’s proposal was repeatedly been blasted as “dead on arrival,” but it sends a clear message: that immigration reform will become (and already is) a key legislative issue in the foreseeable future.

Obama lays out his plan in Vegas (Wash Post)

Obama lays out his plan in Vegas (Wash Post)

Ultimately, I am of the opinion that we will soon see some sort of deal on the issue of illegal immigration. With 11 million undocumented individuals already in our country’s borders and the immense political might of the Latino community, the stakes are simply too high for the issue to remain unresolved. Though the two groups may seem resolute, with the democrats refusing to budge on a path to citizenship and the republicans intent on blocking that very path without significant border control, progress on immigration reform is inevitable. The issue is simply far too important economically, socially, and politically for gridlock to continue.

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