On Wednesday November 5th Democracy Matters partnered with the Eisenhower Institute and the Political Science department to co-host a panel on the issue of campaign finance. Featuring Ellen Weintraub, a commissioner of the Federal Elections Committee(FEC), and Professors Mott, Larson and Mullen, the panel discussed all issues involving money and its effect on public policy.
The panel started off with a brief introduction into the club Democracy Matters, describing its mission to engage students in conversation about the issues of money in government. Following this introduction, Mrs Weintraub explained the founding of the FEC, its current role in policy, and the implications of the Citizens United case. The current issue surrounding campaign finance involves wealthy donors, PAC’s and lobbying firms ability to influence policy. Following the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court ruled that limiting third party groups from funding policy campaigns violated first amendment rights. As a result, third parties financial capabilities have effectively drowned out the voice of average U.S citizens.
In addressing the government’s inability to change this system, sophomore Chase Wonders stated “ I found it interesting that the FEC’s original purpose has been decimated, not by party politics, but the schism of ideology that is currently affecting the country.” Furthermore, Mrs. Weintraub believes that it is this ideology combined with the courts inability to conceptually understand the process of campaign finance that is prohibiting changes to be made.
Concluding the lecture, Mrs. Weintraub and the other panelists opened the floor to questions from the audience. Professor Mott, a legal academic and Professor at Gettysburg College, questioned the Supreme Court’s approach in addressing the Citizens United case. According to Professor Mott, instead of portraying the case as a freedom of speech issue, the court could have instead interpreted the case as a violation of the freedom of the press. While unlikely changing the outcome, this interpretation would have negated the courts ability to rule on campaign finance. Concluding the questions portion of the panel, Mrs. Weintraub stressed the severity of the issue, stating “campaign finance is rooted so deeply in politics, that it effects almost every aspect of our lives without us even knowing it.”
As the panel came to a close, Democracy Matter’s co-chairman Nolan Lynch, stressed the importance of continuing the conversation regarding campaign finance. As stated by Nolan, “it is not the lawyers or the IRS that will be able to effectively solve this issue, it is up to the common voice of the people to go out and make an effective change.” With the issue receiving more exposure, it will be interesting to see if campaign finance will continue to crowd out the voices of the average citizen and corrode America’s democratic values.