Although U.S. law forbids other countries from using money to influence American elections, an ongoing investigation has revealed that this rule didn’t prevent foreign interference in 2016. The government failed to stop a Kremlin-linked business from funding online advertisements. This problem highlights a serious systemic flaw that allows anyone with a large sum of money to gain excessive political influence.
Congress and the Supreme Court have conspired to weaken regulations and maximize the power of moneyed interests. Today, political contributors can donate any amount of cash and hide the source of this funding. Like other secretive political campaigns, Russia’s advertisements used deception to sway voters’ opinions and affect the election results.
Robert Mueller’s investigation will probably reveal the extent of Moscow’s involvement and any direct cooperation with Donald Trump’s staff. Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that Congress or the White House will genuinely work to improve campaign finance laws. If officials don’t take action, foreign authorities and political parties may come to believe that they can easily meddle in U.S. elections.
— End Citizens United (@StopBigMoney) October 6, 2017
The findings of Mueller’s investigation showcase the American political system’s susceptibility to interference. Big companies and overseas entities can secretly provide the funds needed to elect politicians who work on their behalf. One wealthy individual’s preferences might determine the outcome of a state or local election.
The investigation has only revealed $100,000 in Russia-linked spending. Nonetheless, it’s quite feasible that foreign governments and businesses spent millions to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Poor enforcement and ineffective laws make it impossible for the government to determine the full scope of this meddling, let alone take action against the perpetrators.
Secretive political contributions often remain extremely difficult to identify or trace. Still, the Federal Election Commission has succeeded in detecting some unlawful donations from foreign countries. During January 2017, the agency was reportedly investigating up to 15 illegal contributions. This type of interference has become increasingly common in recent years.
Two major instances of foreign meddling came to light during 2016. A business owner from Mexico used a shell company to covertly support a certain political action committee. Meanwhile, a legal loophole helped a Chinese-owned firm in California give over $1 million to another PAC. The organization aided former Governor Jeb Bush’s effort to obtain the Republican presidential nomination.
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Congress already has bills that could prevent corporations, billionaires and foreign governments from gaining undue influence. Unfortunately, many legislators remain unwilling to pass them. Numerous representatives even oppose bills that would improve transparency. Republicans repeatedly used filibusters to prevent their colleagues from forcing donors to publicly reveal political contributions.
Some Democrats have recently taken action to strengthen campaign finance rules. They introduced a bill that could prohibit foreign political donations by eliminating loopholes. Another piece of legislation would amend the Constitution in an effort to reverse harmful Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United.
It’s possible that the Mueller investigation will encourage reform opponents to reconsider their positions. However, some legislators remain reluctant to eliminate sources of large contributions and favorable advertisements. On the other hand, campaign finance reform might stop big donors from helping their rivals. It would also let them focus on serving the public rather than moneyed interests.
The bottom line is that unlimited, secretive campaign contributions have the potential to destroy democracy. End Citizens United calls on all U.S. legislators to support regulatory reforms and keep this money out of American elections. This is the only way to ensure that the government will work in the public’s interest rather than serving top political donors.
About End Citizens United
End Citizens United came into existence in March 2015. Tiffany Muller serves as its executive director and president. This political action committee supports candidates who want to reform campaign finance laws. Additionally, it backs state ballot measures that protect the election system from moneyed interests. The committee cooperates with various pro-reform organizations as well.
As of August 2017, almost 5,000 people had joined ECU. Its name highlights a well-known 2010 Supreme Court case. The justices’ decision made it easier for businesses and trade unions to support favored candidates with monetary contributions. Super PACs gained the ability to collect funds without any limit.
Opposition to this court decision has helped End Citizens United raise considerable amounts of cash. Supporters donated $25 million in 2016, and around 100,000 backers gave $4 million in the first quarter of 2017. Unlike super PACs, End Citizens United doesn’t accept payments exceeding $5,000. The average donor gives approximately $12. This organization also encourages members to directly contribute to candidates that it has endorsed.