It surprises many to learn that the influence of big money in American politics is not a partisan issue, and that 80% percent of Americans feel that they are disenfranchised by the domination of our political system by the money of the powerful few. Here in Virginia, record amounts of money, $121.5 million, were spent on the 2019 elections, up two-fold from 2011.
Republicans have historically had the edge over Democrats in fundraising, but now that money is pouring in from out-of-state, the last election cycle resulted in Democrats outraising Republicans by more than $16 million.
This massive amount of money is partially linked to the Supreme Court ruling 10 years ago this month. Ten years ago, on Jan. 21, 2010, the court ruled in favor of Citizens United. This ruling equated people with corporations, and money with free speech, resulting in billions of dollars being pumped into our elections. This decision was supposedly untethered from candidates or political parties, but in fact, greatly influences the decisions of our elected officials.
This has been aggravated by our lax campaign finance laws in Virginia. Legislators in our state, unique in our nation, are bound by no limits on campaign contributions which they can then use for personal use. Historically this has allowed business and special interest to dictate state pipeline policies, underfund schools and keep tobacco taxes low and payday interest rates high.
Yet, last year, more than 10 campaign finance bills were introduced in the last Virginia General Assembly where they died. Perhaps, as stated in a Jan. 2 Virginia Mercury article “campaign finance reform doesn’t appear to be a major piece of this year’s agenda." This article additionally quotes Del. Joe Lindsey, D-Norfolk, the current chairman of the House Privileges and Elections Committee as saying “... I just don’t know if there’s the will to change the landscape.”
Unprecedented amount of money in our elections have had a corrupting influence on our politicians which is damaging to all citizens regardless of party. And Virginians, whether Republicans or Democrats, care about this issue. Last week, petitions signed by more than 400 people -- both Democrats and Republicans, were recently sent to the General Assembly, highlighting Virginians’ desire to get big money out of politics. They believe that special interests have undermined the “American Promise,” meaning the right of the American people to determine their elections and public policy. We can only take hope from the words of Sen. Creigh Deeds, the chairman of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee as he notes that he “thinks that we’ve got to do everything we can to restore people’s trust in government.”
Animated debate in our Privileges and Elections Committee in both the Senate and House of Delegates are increasingly focused on the issue of money in politics. In Fauquier County and throughout Virginia, we hope that our representatives, such as Sen. Jill H. Vogel, reelected for her third term in the Virginia Senate, will join a number of her fellow legislators on the Privileges and Elections Committee in supporting efforts to implement campaign finance reform in Virginia. Virginia can change its reputation as a “pay to play” state by passing bi-partisan legislation to limit campaign finance contributions, ban donations to elected officials from public service corporations, restrict personal use of campaign finance contributions and increase disclosure in political advertising.
Yet, on the national scene, to effect lasting change, a more permanent solution is needed. A bipartisan consensus is building among people of all political stripes in favor of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would reverse the effects of Citizens United. To date, more than 250 members of Congress have co-sponsored a resolution which supports this constitutional amendment which would allow Congress to enact legislation which allows Congress to regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections. We are proud of our congressional representatives, Reps. Beyer, Connolly, Wexton, Spanberger, and McEichen, along with our two senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, for signing these resolutions.
A nonpartisan national organization called American Promise is backing an amendment to the U.S. constitution to get big money out of politics and the members of the Virginia chapter are working hard to have Virginia become the 21st state to pass a resolution supporting overturning Citizens United and to support campaign finance reform in Virginia. We encourage all Virginia elected officials to support legislation which authorizes effective election spending rules and reaffirms our commitment of a government for and by the people.
To find out more about this effort and the NoVa Chapter of American Promise, go to americanpromise.net.