Columns, Opinion

What Grinds My Gears: The reform no one talks about

Gun control is a topic that has become a staple in the 24-hour news cycle. Whether it’s on your Facebook feed, a part of your dinner table discussion or being broadcasted on a David Muir “20/20” news special, this topic is being debated everywhere.

Women’s rights is another topic that has made headlines. Protests and marches get front page, top-of-the-hour coverage. Pictures of female empowerment get hundreds of thousands of likes on social media and everything pink on Etsy sells fast.

Campaign finance reform, on the other hand, doesn’t get coverage in the media, even though it so desperately needs it.

It doesn’t roll off the tongue the same way other topics do. It doesn’t have a slogan that captivates protestors.

Very few people are talking about campaign finance reform, which makes the issue all the more alarming. According to a poll done by the Pew Research Center, when respondents were asked to list their top priorities for Congress, they ranked campaign finance reform 21st. There were only 22 issues listed.

This could be because Americans have a hard time understanding the meaning of campaign finance to begin with and all the different elements involved. When polled, only 40 percent could correctly identify what a Super PAC is, according to the Washington Post.

Even more alarming, the same poll found that only 24 percent of respondents detailed negative consequences when asked to explain the impact of outside spending on elections.

Campaign finance reform is being overlooked, but it can be made sexy. It’s just the misunderstood, artsy girl from “She’s All That.” All we need to do is remove its glasses, put on some makeup and explain the current dangers of private financing, and boom — only then can campaign finance reform become a front-page topic.

In the United States, political campaigns can be financed two different ways: publicly or privately. Public financing is when a local, state or federal government provides some or all of the money a candidate needs to run a campaign. Public financing isn’t the issue, private is.

Private financing includes all the donations made by individuals, committees like PACs and Super PACs, corporations and unions. While all of these donors have their own complications, none has more than the committees.

PACs and Super PACs are groups that raise money on behalf of an individual or issue to influence an election. There are contribution limits for how much a person can donate to a PAC, and PACs can work directly with a candidate.

Super PACs can raise unlimited amounts of money for a candidate. While they can’t directly donate the money to a campaign, they can use the contributions to advocate for a candidate, which they often do through advertisements.

Super PACs rose to prominence after the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee. The decision from this case overturned a law that prevented corporations, unions and PACs from advertising for candidates.

Of course, this paves the way for political corruption. Candidates become more loyal to the person who donates rather than to their constituents. It’s not a new concept, but that doesn’t make it any less scary.

According to  The Washington Post, 41 percent of donations raised by Super PACs in the 2016 election came from just 50 people and their relatives. And 36 of those 50 people were Republicans, meaning that 70 percent of the money donated by the top 50 was from conservatives.

Without reform, the most influential campaign connection will belong to a mere 50 people. They’ll have the candidates’ ears, and they’ll influence decision making. America will become an oligarchy that’s hidden in democracy’s lacy nightgown, and the evidence of this is already visible.

Gun control isn’t passed because of how deep politicians are in the NRA’s pockets. Climate change isn’t taken seriously because of political ties to oil companies.

Because of the lack of campaign finance reform, the rest of reform in the United States has become stagnant. We have to raise awareness about the issue if we want progress in other areas that need reform too.

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