From 1920 forward LWV has worked to improve all levels of government and engage all citizens in decisions that affect their lives. Since the 1970s LWV has been a national leader on campaign finance reform and lobbied for the passage of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) of 1971 and for the 1974 amendments, which set contributions limits, established public financing for presidential elections, and required disclosure of campaign spending. Our position, last modified in 1982, is being updated through study and consensus. The focus is on the extent to which political campaigns are protected speech under the First Amendment.
In Citizens United v. FEC, decided in 2010, a 5 to 4 Supreme Court majority held that all forms of corporations – including non-profits, trade associations, labor unions and for-profit multi-national corporations have a right to make independent campaign expenditures – just as individuals do. The majority stressed that these expenditures do not corrupt political candidates or elected officials because they are defined as ones not coordinated with candidates or political parties.
The McCutcheon v. FEC decision in 2014 determined that overall limitations on individual contributions infringed on the plaintiff’s free speech rights. Mr. McCutcheon gave the maximum campaign contribution to many candidates and to state and party committees but was prevented from giving more by FECA’s overall limitation on individual contributions. The majority justices dismissed the notion that widely distributed contributions could cause corruption. Justice Breyer, in his dissent wrote that this case, along with Citizens United, “eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”
Does Money equal Speech?
Some arguments in support of unlimited money in politics:
- Money allows funding of modern communication methods.
- Political communication informs voters
- Government should not regulate political speech
- Because a candidate takes contributions does not necessarily mean that if elected he or she will dance to a major contributor’s tune.
Arguments opposing big money in elections:
- Growing cynicism by citizens that democracy is for sale.
- Large amounts of money spent on campaigns make Congress dependent on these dollars and responsive to contributors at the expense of “the people.”
- Greater access – Donors are four times as likely to get a meeting with a chief of staff and twice as likely to meet the member of Congress according to a UC Berkeley study.