Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on TumblrEmail this to someone

The notion that one simple change to our complex political system could ameliorate problems across all aspects of American life seems too good to be true. But believe it or not, a transformation of the campaign finance system could change it all. It is the only way that we will ever achieve meaningful progress in areas such as climate change, health care, and criminal justice reform. However, this is a tall order. Only concrete legislation and a voting public educated about the sources of candidate funding can lead to a democracy in which the power lies with the people rather than self-interested corporations.

By allowing corporations to pour money into the campaigns of candidates whose views benefit them most, the federal government has lost all sense of morality and productivity. The 2010 Supreme Court ruling Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission established that Citizens United, a conservative organization, had the right to contribute unlimited sums of money to political campaigns and Super PACs as a way of exerting its right to free speech. This preposterous extension of the First Amendment allowed biased organizations and corporations to corrupt our campaign finance system.

Not only did Citizens United set a dangerous precedent, but it also paved the way for special interests to spend millions of dollars on political campaigns. According to a Stanford political report, Forbes 400 companies contributed a combined $234 million directly to the campaigns of state and federal politicians and over $400 million indirectly through PACs (Political Action Committees) in 2010.

The report also detailed that an overwhelming majority of these contributions went to incumbent politicians, suggesting that these contributions are designed to influence the behaviors of serving congresspeople. Political candidates need to accept corporate money in order to compete. Therefore, politicians are compelled to support legislation that benefits the corporations funding their reelection campaigns, lest they risk losing their job.

The conflicts of interest created by this rigged system prevent popular, progressive social changes and perpetuate major societal flaws. Citizens United has had a far-reaching impact, from federal to municipal levels. For instance, a significant majority of Americans believe that we must make major lifestyle changes in order to combat global warming, but by flexing its financial muscles through both campaign spending and rigorous lobbying, the fossil fuel industry has blocked any concrete legislation designed to curb our country’s emissions. The campaign influence from Big Pharma has also provided it with deferential treatment from federal legislators.

Unlike other countries that regulate drug prices, the U.S. allows pharmaceutical companies to raise the prices of their medicines without limit, leaving citizens to pay the price through high insurance premiums. Even the judicial branch, which is supposed to be impartial, has been susceptible to this problem.

In states with elected judges, private prisons have profited by funneling money into the campaigns of the judicial candidates that are toughest on crime. Many American citizens have voiced their frustration over all of these issues, yet many do not recognize that they are symptoms of a greater problem: corporate involvement in politics. We have created a congressional process in which no progressive legislation can be passed so long as someone is profiting off the flawed status quo.

At its onset, the populist campaign of Donald Trump sparked hope for campaign finance reform. Trump claimed on his website, “I am self funding my campaign so I don’t owe anything to lobbyists and special interests.” Many Americans were upset at how economic growth only benefited those at the top, so they chomped at the bit to put a Washington outsider into the Oval Office. Tellingly, the billionaire’s first actions as President have shown that he is doing everything but keeping corporate influence out of politics. Trump’s cabinet selections include four billionaires, including Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos who bought her way in with her million-dollar GOP contributions. There is still hope for campaign finance reform, but it does not lie with President Trump. It lies with the voter.

Money still rules in politics, but the widespread popularity of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary showed that if enough impassioned individuals contribute to a campaign, they can compete with the influence of Big Money. Politicians will only accept campaign contributions from corporations so long as it does not cost them votes; therefore, every voter must make a concerted effort to vote only for candidates not beholden to special interests. The American People can use the power of the vote to compel politicians to make decisions that entirely reflect the beliefs of their constituents, not of corporations.