If you’re frustrated at the easy availability of assault rifles in America, don’t blame the National Rifle Association.
If the rise of “sanctuary cities” infuriates you, don’t blame liberal groups such as Democracy for America, either.
The real problem lies with our political system’s failure to rein in the outsized influence of money in politics.
Limits on political donations by individuals, businesses and political action committees are rendered moot by the unlimited spending by so-called Super PACs, which can marshal the resources to relentlessly attack or boost candidates of their choosing.
In its 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court held it unconstitutional to limit the amount of money that unaffiliated groups, or so-called Super PACs, could spend on political campaigns. Other groups, often funded by corporate interests, spend money on political messaging without registering with the election commission at all because electoral politics isn’t their primary function.
As a result, more than 20 percent of the $6.4 billion spent in the 2016 presidential and congressional campaigns was from groups with no limits on the amount they could raise or spend, according to OpenSecrets.org, an online database of filings with the Federal Election Commission.
In the case of the NRA, its affiliated super PACs spent more than $52 million in the 2016 election campaign, most of it to support Donald Trump and six Republican candidates for Senate, five of whom won. Individual donors were limited to giving $2,700 to candidates in 2016.
In the wake of the tragic shooting deaths of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many people have tried to shame politicians for accepting contributions and support from the NRA, which advocates for Americans’ rights to guns, including the AR-15 rifles that have become the weapon of choice for domestic terrorists.
Had those candidates not taken the money, the NRA would have found a candidate who would, and thrown its weight behind them. Then its Super PAC could spend as much as it wanted to get that person elected.
We can’t blame the NRA, the pharmaceutical industry, trial lawyers or other groups for spending as much as they legally can to advance their interests. The blame lies with the political system that grants them this outsized power and influence.
It is within our power to change the rules. This could require a constitutional amendment imposing strict limits on campaign contributions and spending, something that will preserve the rights of individuals to advance their views, without allowing a few people or interest groups to dominate.
Only by imposing stricter limits on the role of money in our electoral process will average Americans be able to reclaim the power that is rightly theirs.