Opinion

A few wealthy contributors gain outsized influence in elections

It’s not a formula for elections that feature full-throated discussions of issues important to average Americans and North Carolinians. As David McLennan, political scientist of Meredith College, put it: “We’re finding that the percentage of American contributors to political campaigns or political groups is going down and the influence of wealthy individuals is going up.”

Just 50 North Carolinians gave federal candidates and committees $4.5 million since the U.S. Supreme Court, in its unfortunate Citizens United ruling in 2010, opened the floodgates for big money contributors. The ruling declared corporations were people for purposes of political contributions and upended campaign finance laws.

Ever since, individuals and special interest groups have peeled off wads of cash for candidates and advertising, resulting most recently in the North Carolina U.S. Senate race becoming the most expensive statewide race in history, over $100 million total spent.

But McLennan’s point is most clearly made with numbers such as this: 10 North Carolinians gave almost $2 million toward candidates and party committees in the last election cycle. Those 10 people and their issues, one can be assured, will get considerably more attention than the concerns of regular voters.

And the election process, thanks to the high court, also is flooded by anonymous donors who give through nonprofits that can shield the names of givers.

America desperately needs campaign finance reform that can stand up to court challenges. And let us hope higher courts will recognize that campaign laws must be allowed to evolve. There is division on this already: Citizens United was a 5-4 decision after all. There must be new laws to protect democracy from the “for sale” signs. In the meantime, it seems the voices of average Americans grow more faint with each election.

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