Celeste Headlee, The Takeaway
Celeste Headlee, is a former co-host of The Takeaway.
When the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Citizens United, there were all kinds of doomsday predictions about the impact of the ruling. Most famously was Barack Obama's comments during his State of the Union address:
"Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections," Obama said. "Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong."
And then the TV cameras cut to the stone-faced Justices, an unbroken line of tightly pursed lips. If there had been a camera in my house, you would have seen the same expression on my face, rather than the enthusiasm of Chuck Schumer who stood behind the justices and applauded the president's remarks. And why did I look so glum and unhappy? Because I think the president was right.
This is a bipartisan issue. Here's what John McCain said during an interview on NewsHour in 2000:
Look, there's no doubt that special interests and their representatives have taken over the legislative process and more and more money is pouring into the political campaigns from these interests and we have got to reform the system ... I and the other advocates of campaign finance reform will tie up the United States Senate next year. We will have blood all over the floor of the Senate until we exceed to the demands now, not the wishes, the demands of the American people to be represented in Washington again.
But that was 10 years ago, when McCain was just a senator. Fast forward to 2008 after Super Tuesday votes were counted and the venerable vet became the presumptive nominee. Suddenly, the blood on the floor stemmed from the remains of McCain's campaign finance policy. He opted out of the public financing system because he didn't want to be shackled by that pesky $54 million spending limit.
Why do I point this out, when McCain is hardly the most egregious example of hypocrisy surrounding political spending nor the most recent? Because McCain transformed from champion of reform to culprit in the blink of an eye. And that is the real problem: we can't rely on the Congress to regulate Congress. That's like expecting Senators to vote themselves a pay cut or a reduction in benefits: ain't gonna happen.
So how can President Obama really expect the Congress to do the good work that the Supreme Court failed to accomplish? They can't. They are addicts being asked to regulate their drug.
In most of Europe, candidates get government funding of one kind or another. They say it cuts down on corruption. Is that a possibility in the United States? Not by a long shot. Corporations would protest, legislators would stall, and media networks would scream about lost ad revenue.
So expecting campaign finance reform to come from Capitol Hill is sheer folly. I say forget about the legislative reform because we have a much more powerful tool at our disposal. In this video game, they've got demons and huge pools of radioactive slime, we have the BFG ( Big F**king Gun as featured in the video game "Doom"). That weapon is our vote.
No amount of money can influence elections unless the ads keep people from voting or sway public opinion. So an educated, active voting public can see headlines about billions spent on campaigns and laugh. Let real estate magnates and multinational corporations spend millions on smear ads, we can read the paper and vote our own way.
A huge turnout at the polls is the antidote to monetary poison. Staying home just hands control over to the people (and companies) that are smart enough to realize how important these elections are, and how valuable every vote is. They are investing billions. Think you can invest 20 minutes and a number two pencil?