Big Money, Bigger Problems
New Hampshire’s Statehouse. Home to one of the largest legislative bodies in the world.
New Hampshire state Rep. Patty Lovejoy faced an uphill battle in her re-election bid for a seat that represents a handful of towns on the state’s seacoast. This time she was running not only against a worthy challenger but also the wave of money he was riding on into the fight.
“The amount of influence that big money has had in this election is just criminal,” Lovejoy, a Democrat said. “Americans for Prosperity and the Koch brothers, made two full-color, glossy mailings against me. The idea that the Koch brothers could care what happens in one out of 400 races in the New Hampshire House to me is mind-boggling.”
Americans for Prosperity is a conservative advocacy group that donated more than $33 million to Republican causes in this election cycle, according to Open Secrets, a website for the Center of Responsive Politics. The Koch brothers’ other organizations spent over $400 million on Republican campaigns according to Politico.
In contrast to the money arrayed against her, Patty Lovejoy is a stay-at-home mom who has put one child through college and has one more still in school.
She also served on her local school board before being elected to the state House of Representatives in 2010.
This is the world of American Politics. The notion of the collective wills of the people being reflected in the officials they elect to serve them is to say the least, in question. Instead it is being replaced by a price tag for the powerful to buy favorable policies. This made even easier after the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case, which put no limits on the funding corporations could give to political activist groups, just as long as the companies did not give them directly to a candidate.
“A lot of people get caught up on how the spending is determining the election. But the more important aspect is, the spending is determining the policy outcome before the candidate comes into office,” said Tyler Creighton of Common Cause. Common Cause is public advocacy group that aims to introduce a constitutional amendment that would deny corporations constitutional rights and would allow Congress and the states to place limits on campaign spending.
“Because of the Citizens United decision the candidates increasingly have to be aware that lots of money could come in against them if they take positions on the wrong sides of issues,” Creighton said. “Moreover, in order secure expenditures on their on cap they are required to take certain positions to obtain that funding.”
Lovejoy has seen this come to life with initiatives that were passed in the New Hampshire House and eventually killed in the Senate. These initiatives included five separate gun-restriction issues in the past two years. According to Lovejoy, these initiatives included the right carry a gun in a courtroom, the right for students at public universities to keep firearms on campus without registering them, the right to carry a concealed weapon inside Manchester’s Verizon Wireless Arena, the right to carry a concealed weapon regardless if the individual had a criminal record or were mentally ill and the right to carry loaded weapons in cars.
“The very first day of session two years ago we actually had to vote to see if we would allow guns on the floor of the Statehouse,” said Lovejoy. “My son called me and says ‘Mom this is ridiculous, one day someone is going to get killed over a game of beer-pong.’”
During the second presidential debate President Obama was asked what he would do to curb gun violence in wake of the Colorado theater shooting, and he raised the idea of re-introducing an assault weapons ban. In fact however, in the very state of Colorado where a gunman killed 12 people with an AR-15 assault rifle he bought legally, the Republican congressmen Mike Coffman and Scott Tipton just won their re-election bids. According to Open Secrets, along the way they accepted $4,950 and $4,500 respectively from a National Rifle Association PAC. This was on the higher end of the individual contributions ranging from $100 to almost $1,000 according to Open Secrets.
In a state that has seen more than its share of gun violence, the thought of two of their own congressmen accepting money from a group that strives to make it easier for anyone to obtain a gun is unsettling. Officially, Coffman believes current gun laws are satisfactory and Tipton has voted recently to extend rights for concealed carrying across state lines with registration, according to Project Vote Smart, a database designed to inform voters on where their candidates stand on issues.
“I think these organizations have contributed to our campaigns more because of the shooting. They know we are more sensitive to the violence here,” said Maureen Quinlan, a third-year journalism major at Northeastern, and resident of Boulder, Colorado.
According to Fox News, this election resulted in the first billion-dollar campaign in American history with money pouring in for both sides of the aisle. The increasing flow of money into political campaigns has concerned many people that the American democratic process is up for sale to the highest bidder.
“This decision has lead to corporations contributing unlimited funds to secure their interests,” said Dylan Jenks, a third-year political science major at Northeastern. “This is ultimately a major contributing factor to the increasing polarization of the political parties.”
This means that major corporations can donate to any independent group that has one issue as its focus, be it a super PAC or political advocacy group. These groups will then turn around and donate these funds to various public outreach and advocacy campaigns at both state and national levels, and this amount is only increasing, said Dr. Derigan Silver of Denver University.
“Citizens United and subsequent decisions made it possible for some groups to collect unlimited funds so long as those funds are used for independent expenditures, but left in place limits on contributions given directly to politicians,” the political journalism professor said. “You are actually put in a place where outside groups have more money to spend than politicians themselves.”
The issue of campaign financing will not go away overnight, but more and more Americans are becoming aware of their current situation. Creighton believes that in coming elections the focus of these super PACs and political advocacy groups will turn directly to the state elections If this continues the results would have devastating consequences on American citizens according to Creighton.
“It’s important to remember the state and local elections because I think Citizens United and super PACs are larger impact in these races because they are mostly unnoticed,” he said. “Also, the candidates in these races are not raising huge amounts of money, so $100,000 injected into a town councilor race would be huge.”
The current political climate after Citizens United will leave everyday people who answer the call of public office because they want what is best for their communities, question if they will still be heard with all the money that will flood into their elections in the future. For legislators like Lovejoy, they are left with the concern that money will prevail over what is best for their constituents.
“At this rate this will not stop until organizations like these have practically bought control in every state,” she said. “It is permeating every level of government.”