It's time to find out who owns your democracy, and how they bought it.
Do you feel like US campaign finance is hopelessly shrouded in mystery? Fear not citizen, there's a website for that: The Center for Responsive Politics
has made available a well-organized, highly detailed database of their analysis of US campaign finance to shine a bright nonpartisan light on the green underbelly of US democracy.
A small sampling of the CRP's web database offerings:
- Curious which industries contributed to which US presidential candidates, and how much? There's a table for that.
- Ever wonder where presidential candidates spend the gazillions they burn through during a campaign? There's a pie chart for that.
- Interested in where members of congress invest THEIR hard-earned dollars? Here, have a table, broken down by year, house of congress, and political party.
- No need to look at it from the receiving end - take a look at a detailed, searchable rundown of companies, industry groups, PACs, and other donor organizations, and which candidates they boosted into office.
- Also don't miss their excellent interactive infographic, which provides a tour through the tangled web of presidential candidates, and where their money comes from.
Finished with opensecrets.org? Here's a site that provides several tools for finding out where money is flowing specifically in US state elections.
Or, if you prefer a more industry-specialized approach, Oil Change International
provides an interesting searchable overview of which politicians have left oily fingerprints on American law and policy. Purists can also go straight to the source, the (slightly less user-friendly) US Federal Elections Commission website.
One idea for reducing the influence of campaign donors on elections is public campaign financing. For example, Public Campaign [WARNING: AUTOPLAY VIDEO]
is an organization that seeks to enact systems across the USA that provide taxpayer-supplied nonpartisan financing to campaigning politicians (excerpt from PublicCampaign.org)
Rather than being forced to rely on special interest donors to pay for their campaigns, candidates have the opportunity to qualify for full public funding which ends their reliance on special interest campaign cash. Being freed from the money chase means they have more time to spend with constituents, talking about issues that matter to them. When they enter office, they can consider legislation on the merits, without worrying about whether they are pleasing well heeled donors and lobbyists.
In 2007, USA Today weighed in with a bit of point
regarding public campaign financing, the former (in favor of public financing) provided by the editors, the latter (opposed) by Bradley Smith of the Center for Competitive Politics
Got a handle on how US campaign finance works right now? Well, stay tuned: The landscape of campaign finance may soon be fundamentally reshaped by the powerful hand of the US Supreme Court
In Citizens United
vs. Federal Election Commission
(read here for a layman's description
), the Supreme Court will issue an opinion that could dramatically reinterpret the McCain-Feingold
by providing a new judicial definition of "political ad". Last June, the Supreme Court (including newly appointed Justice Sonia Sotomayor) made the unusual decision to rehear oral arguments, indicating considerable difficulty in reaching a decision.
The Supreme Court was expected to issue a ruling last week, but the ivory tower remained silent on the matter. Campaign finance reform activists are left breathlessly sitting on the edge of their seats.
Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) weighs in on the pending Supreme Court case.
, and analysis
on the subject
Bonus: a light-hearted pictoral take on campaign finance reform.
Posted with apologies to non-US readers.