Columns, Opinion

RYAN: For Sale: The U.S. Government

I am the average poor college student. Since moving to Boston last September, I have asked my Daddy Dearest for no cash contributions. My bank account is always a little too close to zero, and I cherish the 3 a.m. direct deposit from Boston University on Fridays. But, thanks to a Supreme Court decision last week, I have an incentive to start saving my pennies instead of blowing my paycheck on Starbucks and Chipotle, as having a political voice just became a lot more expensive.

According to Oyez, an IIT Chicago database of all Supreme Court cases, the Supreme Court handed down yet another controversial decision on April 2. McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission questioned whether the current two-year campaign contribution limit was constitutional.

Following the “screw the people” mentality of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in 2010, the Roberts’ court has outdone itself once again. If you need a refresher, the Citizens United case is when the Court decided that corporate funding of “independent political broadcasts” during election season cannot be limited under the First Amendment.

Basically, corporations have the same First Amendment rights as people when it comes to political donations. I’m a little concerned that that many Ivy League-educated lawyers mistook a corporation for a person, but maybe that’s just me. This ruling guaranteed that corporations could funnel endless cash into attack ads as long as they did not blatantly support a candidate.

Along a similar line, the Court ruled last Wednesday that the contribution limit for the two-year campaign cycle was unconstitutional. While the individual campaign limits, such as the $2,600 per federal candidate per donor per election cycle, are still in effect, the overall limit has disappeared. For federal elections specifically, the old cap was $48,600, which meant that someone could donate the maximum amount to about 18 candidates per cycle.

Here’s the last part of the math lesson before we get back to the angry rant you’ve all been waiting for. If someone were to donate the maximum amount of $2,600 to every politician in the House and Senate, it would come out to a whopping $1.4 million.

I don’t know about you, but other than my friends in the School of Management, I don’t know anyone who has that kind of cash to throw into one election cycle, or any election cycle, for that matter. This kind of rampant spending gives those with deep pockets more influence than the lowly college student waiting for her next paycheck. It seems that all men (and women!) were not created equal. Our equality seems entirely dependent on the number of zeros on our bank account.

I’m not pissed because I’m a liberal Democrat who thinks Republican corporations will outspend Democrats and take over the country. Frankly, I don’t care which side of the aisle the checks are for. It bothers me that some people in this country have an unnecessary amount of power just because they have money. Not only can their corporations funnel endless cash into campaigns to bash opponents, but now they can also contribute millions of dollars to the candidates (or parties) they believe in.

Yet, another benefit of this genius ruling comes in the form of television ads. Candidates will have even more money to pour into the election cycles, making the campaigns even bloodier and less honorable. In a country that spends far too much money on elections, this decision could not come at a worse time. There is a misconception that the candidate with the largest war chest wins, despite the fact that sometimes the opposite is true.

As a nation we need to change our approach to voting and elections. It has become a popularity contest that the cool, rich kid with the BMW wins far too often. It’s time to elect the nerd with fewer friends, but who has far more ideas on how to change what has become a broken system.

We live in a country where our political system is in need of reform. Unfortunately for us, the Supreme Court probably just set us back half a century. Campaign finance is a critical issue, even though it might not seem as important.  However, if our politicians cannot get elected with the shiny toys and laser light show, then there must be something wrong with how we screen our candidates.

Don’t get me wrong. Money is critical for campaigns. The checkbook decides some elections, but that doesn’t mean the checkbook is the most important aspect. Candidates should receive a strict cap on official (and unofficial) donations, and so should their donors. Our system is riddled with corruption, surely taking away restrictions is not the way to guarantee democracy. We might not be rich entrepreneurs, but poor college students still have the right to vote. I just hope the endless stream of cash doesn’t drown out our voices.



Sara Ryan is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences studying political science and math. She can be reached at [email protected].

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