This project will address the influence that campaign contributions have on the spread of information and election outcomes. The rising prominence of money in political campaigns and judicial rulings, such as Citizens United that have opened the door for essentially unlimited donations and spending, are undermining the integrity and effectiveness of the U.S. federal government. A recent New York Times poll found that 84% of respondents to the poll reported that they felt money had too much influence in politics, and only 4% believed that politicians never promoted policies to directly benefit their campaign donors ("Americans’ Views on Money in Politics", 2015).
In early US history campaigns were financed solely by the candidates themselves and campaigning itself was not what it is today. The first candidate to begin raising money for his campaign was Andrew Jackson, who did so out of necessity as he was one of the first presidential candidates not to come from wealth. After the 1896 election in which William McKinley raised more than $16 million in donations, the public started to call for campaign finance reform. Since then the legislature and courts have attempted at times to regulate campaign financing more however many initiatives that would have helped balance the issue have been struck down as being unconstitutional. Recently there have been several measures to come up to the Supreme Court this century which have had an impact on campaign financing. Of note are Wisconsin Right to Life vs FEC in which the Court held that “groups could use corporate or union money to run ads just prior to elections so long as they didn't contain the "functional equivalent" of explicit advocacy for a particular party or candidate’. Also important is the Citizens United case which held that “corporations (and, by extension, unions and other groups) may make unlimited expenditures on messages encouraging votes for or against specific candidates, so long as they're not coordinated with candidates or parties”(Money-in-Politics Timeline). To see more details on the history of campaign finance view the timeline on the home page.
The complex system centered on the influence of money in politics contains the four main components of fundraising, voters, the spread of information, and political favors. A detailed description of the system can be found under the link for ‘Systems Analysis’. The in-depth system analysis of this issue found a complex network of reinforcing loops that continue to grow the influence of money. The loops connected to political favors tend to have an outsized effect on the influence of money in politics because the expectations of favors results in an interdependence between contributors/donors and politicians. This results in politicians becoming increasingly attached to donors due to their need for more and more campaign finances.
There a number of stakeholders that are involved with the issue of big money in political campaigns. The following groups of individuals that can be identified as stakeholders are:
- Political candidates
- The FEC
For further analysis on the relevant stakeholders in relation to their interests, power, legitimacy and urgency, please refer to the link under ‘Stakeholder Analysis’.
Of the current approaches we have found thus far, all rely heavily on the government itself to enact reforms. The most common approaches include support for a constitutional amendment to Citizens United, increasing public financing of elections to candidates who qualify, fighting for increased disclosure through new legislation and for the FEC to be a more effective monitor of campaign financing. Currently 19 states have called for an amendment for Citizens United (Communications Workers of America, 2011), 15 states have some form of public financing (Fighting Big Money in Politics) and certain places such as Maine, Connecticut and New York City have measures in place to encourage small donors(Communications Workers of America, 2011). Due to our group’s focus on the ineffectiveness of government these approaches are clearly not the recipe for the change we envision.
We discovered several ways that sustainable business ventures can address this problem. One of the opportunities is harnessing the ever expanding influence of social media networks on the spread of information. Social media’s ability to reach the masses makes it a great platform from which to educate voters. Additionally, the low cost of social media to individual candidates is important to increasing exposure for all candidates running. Things to consider based off of this consideration of social media approach include whether to create a new social media platform, the purpose of which would be to mitigate this problem, or to engage in a public-private partnership with already existing networks. Some other opportunities that exist also in the social media category would be efforts to increase small campaign donations to lesser known candidates. Another approach to address the problem of political campaign money’s influence in politics would be to create an organization dedicated to the collection of data about campaign contributions that published a periodical or posted articles on the topic in the new and around the web.
We look to use this wide outreach to better inform the public on campaign values. We also hope that this will get smaller donors to give to campaigns and allow for fundraising in different forms. We believe that with a more educated population it will also inform the public on how candidates receive their funding and who is supporting who when it comes to corporate donations. We believe that if these issues become more of a talking point in the general public, companies will change the way they support candidates and ultimately get the public discussing how these donations and elections are set up. We understand that these changes to campaign dynamics and campaign donations will take time, but with a better educated public we hope to speed up the fix of big money’s impact on our political system.