Of the many topics discussed in the president’s State of the Union address, campaign finance reform was not one of them. As commentators focus on what Obama did say, it’s important to look at what he didn’t say as well. Tweet it: Tweet
Given that he’s fresh out of election season, campaign finance may very well be the last thing on his list of priorities. Yet, following the most expensive election in the history of the nation, at least some words on the topic might have been prudent.
A look at the last four years reveals a, at best, hollow executive stance on campaign finance reform. Now that a reelection campaign is no longer on the horizon, it makes perfect sense why the calls for reform would fall by the wayside.
High rhetoric and tepid follow through have marked the administration’s approach to ending unlimited spending in political campaigns. A look at the president’s comments from 2010’s State of the Union demonstrate supposedly strong opposition to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision:
I don’t think American election should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people and I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems. Tweet quote: Tweet
A similar attitude has been apparent in dealing with the horribly broken state of legal classifications surrounding politically active organizations. Loose legal definitions of what constitutes advocacy and how much tax-exempt organizations are allowed to partake in have fostered a culture of impunity within Super PACs and ‘social-welfare’ organizations, breeding collusion between candidates and their supposedly independent counterpart political action committees.
Unsurprisingly, Obama paid due lip service to criticizing the 2010 decision while on the campaign trail in 2012, often bringing up growing corporate influence in politics as a primary platform tenet. At his acceptance Obama remarked, “… lobbyists and special interests; the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election and those who are making it harder for you to vote.”
Substantive action regarding campaign finance would be best embodied in a concerted effort to reform the Federal Elections Commission, or at least make it functional. Following Cynthia Bauerly’s resignation, the commission isn’t even fully staffed, let alone capable of making any decisions.
Nearly all the commissioners are serving past their terms, a testament to how insurmountable at task it has become for Congress to confirm a presidential appointment. Alas, there was no mention of the Federal Elections Commission or its recently retired appointee.
Although Citizens United is really just the tip of the dark-money-in-campaigns iceberg, it has become a lightning rod for public sentiment on the subject. Many non-partisan campaign finance groups, like Democracy 21 and the Sunlight Foundation, have expressed lament towards Obama’s lack of focus on campaign finance issues during Tuesday’s speech. Tweet it: Tweet
As campaigns continue to raise and spend even higher sums of money from even more powerful parties, representation has increasingly deviated away from a common vision for average Americans and drifted farther towards the well-financed and well-connected.