The Wealthy, The Poor, Equal Representation, and Presidential Campaign Financing

The current system of funding our presidential candidates creates an atmosphere for the President to be beholden to wealthy citizens and corporate interests rather than equally representing each American citizen. This allows our foreign and domestic policies to be a “private preserve of the rich and corporate interests” (Mandle). The problem of money corrupting politics on the campaign trail was addressed in the 1970s with the formation of the Federal Election Commission. Various other laws have been passed since that time to prevent candidates and their supporters from circumventing existing campaign finance laws.

Campaign law is not set in stone and can be changed if needed. The FEC was formed in 1971 and given the task to oversee that contributions and expenditures were limited and publically disclosed. The Supreme Court ruled in the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo case that it was unlawful to place spending limits on the candidates (Congressional 4). In 2002, Congress passed the McCain-Feingold Amendment (legally known as the Bipartisan Campaign Act). This act tried to limit the loopholes in the previous campaign financing laws that candidates had abused. The McCain-Feingold Amendment is still being challenged in courts with one ruling against it in the Wisconsin Right to Life v. Federal Election Commission case which allowed for issue advertisements to still be aired if Congress is still in session (Be Fair).

One of the dangers of the current system is bundlers. A bundler is a person who collects campaign contributions and bundles them together as a gift to the candidate. Current contributions are limited to $2000 per person, but a bundler can raise much more for a candidate. “Bush’s re-election campaign raised $262 million in the primary elections. At least 29 percent of the money Bush raised during the 2004 primaries – $76.5 million – came from only 548 bundlers” (Public). “Kerry raised $248 million in the primaries, breaking all previous records for a Democrat. Nearly 17 percent of that – at least $41.5 million – came from 546 bundlers – although this number is likely closer to 21 percent” (Public).

Both John Kerry and George W. Bush opted out of public funding in 2004 presidential race in order to be able to raise more money than would be allowed if they were under public funding. The ability to opt out of public funding makes public funding irrelevant. Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres propose in their book Voting With Dollars that campaign contributions should be given through vouchers which would be given to each citizen to distribute to the candidate of their choice (Wertheimer 4). This system would allow for equality in campaign contributions along with giving every citizen an opportunity to run as long as they shared a message that connected with the people. In this system, the wealthy would not control which candidates had the money to spend. Every citizen would be on equal standing when it came to supporting the presidential candidate of their choice. The only funding would be public funding funneled through the citizens.

Two different zip codes, 90210 and 90011, that reside only 16 miles apart are representative of the difference between classes in the realm of presidential politics. In the zip code 90210, 1846 different campaign contributions have been given to candidates and political organizations for the 2008 presidential cycle (CampaignMoney). This zip code has an estimated population of 21,934 people in 2005 and an average adjusted gross income of $408,901 in 2004 (City-Data). Compare that to zip code 90011, which is only 16 miles away. The zip code 90011 has an estimated population of 102,217 people in 2005 with an average adjusted gross income of $20,486 in 2004 (City-Data). Despite a population of almost five times that of 90210, they have only had a total of ten different campaign contributions from five different people (CampaignMoney). 1846 campaign contributions versus ten. Who will the presidential candidates try to appease when it is necessary to raise a lot of money in order to get elected?

With any changes in presidential campaign funding, there will still be two prevailing problems. The impact that the media has on all areas of electoral politics, especially presidential elections, is enormous. Exposure is influence and the media provides the “leading” candidates with story after story during the election season. The United States is the only “economically developed” democracy that does not provide free media time to presidential candidates (Mandle).

The second area that will always be a problem is enforcement of campaign law. Fred Wertheimer wrote, “"weak enforcement and a reluctant Congress are the forces that undermine the current system" (Wertheimer 12). Enforcement will be a problem no matter what system we move towards. The best designed system, if not enforced, is meaningless. "Ultimately, any campaign finance system that regulates the source of campaign money will necessarily have some complexity. Under the current system, as history shows, it is not well-meaning innocents who typically risk running afoul of these provisions, but strategically aggressive players" (Wertheimer 3).

If the goal of a democratic government is to represent the people and not just a small yet wealthy segment of the population, then it is the responsibility of the people to insure that they have equal representation. Equal representation can only happen when there is equality in all areas of electing candidates. The current system and most of the proposals in the public arena for campaign finance reform do not provide equal economic viability for people to run, nor do they provide equal opportunity for citizens to support who they want to vote for; the only equality currently provided is equality in the value of a vote in the voting booth. Every citizen has an equal vote, but the money that candidates raises influences the promotion that a candidate receives. This causes the wealthy to be able to promote their favored candidates and effectively control the political environment in our nation (Mandle). A true representative democracy should provide equality in running, supporting, and voting.

Works Cited:

Be Fair. History of the Case. Milwaukee, WI, 2007. Wisconsin Right to Life. 1 Nov. 2007 <>. 2 Nov. 2007 <>.

City-Data. 3 Nov. 2007 <>.

Congressional Research Service. Campaign Finance: An Overview. Washington: The Library of Congress, 31 Jul. 2006. 2 Nov. 2007 <>.

Mandle, Jay. "FOLLOW THE MONEY : Why campaigns should be publicly financed." Commonweal 128.13 (July 13, 2001): 12. Academic OneFile. Gale. Vermont College of Union Institute. 1 Nov. 2007

Public Citizen. Final Analysis of Bush-Kerry Fundraising Shows Heavy Reliance on Small Number of People Who Bundle Contributions. Washington, 2 Dec. 2004. 3 Nov. 2007 <>.

Wertheimer, Fred, and Alexandra T.V. Edsall. "Response to 'Voting with Dollars: A New Paradigm for Campaign Finance.'." University of Richmond Law Review 37.4 (May 2003): 1111-1145. Academic OneFile. Gale. Vermont College of Union Institute. 1 Nov. 2007