Campaign Finance Reform

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A 5-4 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission issued in January 2010 marked the beginning of the end of campaign finance reform.

The court said it was OK for corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on ads calling for election or defeat of individual candidates.

Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his family have donated $40 million to Republican super PACs and Republican presidential and congressional candidates. Formerly a Democrat, Adelson switched parties because he said Republicans were more charitable than Democrats and more supportive of Israel. In February 2012 he told “Forbes” that he is “against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections, but as long as it’s doable I’m going to do it. Because I know that guys like (George) Soros have been doing it for years if not decades.”

In March 2014, Adelson’s wealth was said to be $40.8 billion, making him the 9th richest person in the world.

George Soros, a non-practicing Jew, established Soros Fund Management that in 2013 was valued at $29 billion. His son Jonathan, like his father, has given generously to Democratic interests but now claims he has an ambitious plan to support candidates in congressional and state-level elections who will help push “the most sweeping campaign finance reforms in a generation.”

He has funded a super PAC, Friends of Democracy, and has even found two Republicans who he hopes he can convince to support clean elections (source, David Freedlander in “The Daily Beast”). Jonathan admits that “The path will not be straight … but we are serious about winning.” Jonathan doesn’t sound like he’s a chip off the old block.

Sheldon Adelson, George Soros and Jonathan Soros are not the only super-wealthy who have made or plan to make substantial contributions to political interests.

The infamous Koch brothers formed “Americans for Prosperity” and have spent and/or plan to spend $125 million to support Republican candidates in federal and state elections. Tom Steyer, a wealthy hedge-fund manager, plans to spend $100 million to defeat anti-environmental candidates, especially those who deny that human activity is causing climate change and who support construction of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.

As to the current status of campaign finance reform, it is now virtually non-existent, at least at the federal level. The final nail in its coffin was the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision on April 3, which removed the cap on the total amount any individual can contribute to candidates for federal office in any 2-year election cycle. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in a dissenting opinion, “This will create a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign. When enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard.”

Candidates of both parties accuse opponents of receiving “dark money.” Dark money comes from dozens of nonprofit organizations on both sides of the political spectrum that are not required to disclose their contributors. A list of these nonprofits and how much they have contributed can be found on the Internet via Open Secrets.org. In 2006, these non-profit organizations contributed $5.2 million; in 2012, they contributed over $300 million.

Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn University. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

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