By Rachel Rochford (’23)
America is a capitalist nation, one of the many things that people here hate to love and love to hate. On one hand, capitalism has allowed for the competition, innovation, and political freedoms that have caused generations of entrepreneurs to thrive in America. On the other hand, capitalism can, and has led to marginalization of those that don’t fit within its confines, and externalities that have had disastrous impacts(i.e. pollution and the creation of monopolies). Marginalization, externalities, and monopolies are never a promising combination for the middle and lower class. Monopolies especially have taken their toll on the common man but one in particular has stood out in recent years, the monopoly on campaign finance.
The first record of the campaign finance that we see today is attributed to Andrew Jackson by opensecrets.org. Since then, campaign finance and its impact on the American people has only evolved. Today, this industry is dominated by wealthy individuals and special interest groups. You may be asking yourself how there could possibly be a monopoly on campaign finance because surely there are laws to prevent such a thing, right? Yes, there are laws in place to prevent any one group of people from controlling the amount of money that goes towards helping a political campaign and yes, these laws do include limits on the amount of money a group or individual can donate directly to a politician’s campaign. However, these laws are all rendered nearly useless by one thing. Super Pacs.
Super Pacs are independent committees that are allowed to raise as much money as they like to support a political candidate so long as said money is not given to or spent after consulting with a political campaign or party. Just because candidates aren’t supposed to coordinate with Super Pacs, doesn’t mean they don’t. Instead, candidates are careful and creative as they tiptoe up to the line of coordination. Today’s candidates effectively end up working directly with these Super Pacs which raises the question, just how much of an influence do these Super Pacs and those who donate to them have over candidates? Any reasonable person could guess that this would be a significant amount of influence as most people are very beholden to the source of their money and politicians are no exception to this rule.
Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of donations to Super Pacs come from wealthy people and special interest groups as opposed to common middle and lower class Americans. According to one article in the Chicago Tribune, nearly 41 percent of all money donated to Super Pacs in 2016 came from 50 people and their relatives. That’s insane. As of 2016, there were approximately 323.4 million people in American according to the US Census Bureau’s data, yet 50 people and their family members made up nearly half of all donations to Super Pacs that year. That means that about 50 out of 323.4 million people are running America’s campaign finance monopoly. With that realization, we have to wonder if there is any hope for ending this monopoly over campaign finance anytime soon.