Campaign Finance Reform in California

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Campaign Finance Reform in California

In the contemporary United States political sphere, the controversy of big money in politics, and its influence has been one of the most debated issues. Particularly in California, there has been a surge in the number of politicians who are sponsored by businesses and companies. Therefore, this raises the question of liability of such representatives to their electorate with regard to corporate matters, and whether they can hold such businesses to account in cases where their performance infringes the law. Hence, collective efforts have been made to reform this kind of financing of public officials in the state. The essay argues that the reform of campaign finance in California has created an overall positive impact since 2000 until now.

Positive Impact of Campaign Finance Reform in California

The reforms of laws that govern campaign financing have the potential to lead to the increased turnout in future elections thus reversing the current trend of declining voter participation. In the state with minimal regulations that pertain to election contributions, there is a likelihood of low turnout as the voters might feel that the election is already determined by the individual who can spend more money on political ads and campaigns (Sample, 2006). The voter apathy might be exacerbated by the feeling of the electorate that wealthy people and corporations are in charge of all candidates, and that regardless of the results of elections, the elected person is not likely to represent the views or the needs of the public (Marks et al., 2016). Consequently, capping the amount that the contenders may raise, especially from big businesses, can act as encouragement for the voters to get involved in the electoral process by volunteering and casting their votes. However, with the reform aimed at capping the amount that a single candidate can raise or spend during an election, there has been the steady increase in the number of voters on election days.

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The second advantage is that the introduction of spending caps has also led to a decrease in the quantity of fundraisers, which politicians have to attend. Corporate interests have been known to hold as many fundraisers as possible, mostly represented by proxies in a so as to ensure that they have as much influence on politicians as possible (Potter & Penniman, 2016). Based on this, some politicians, who need money to fund their campaigns would spend a large part of their campaign time at the corporate fundraisers (Potter & Penniman, 2016). With the reduction of sums that politicians can invest, there is almost no need for them to expend time on conform to business interests during such fundraisers. Moreover, representatives of the authorities can interact with the electorate or formulate policy issues.

Thirdly, the reform has lowered the amount of explicit corporate money in the electoral system. It aimed at removing the influence of business entities on the voting system. Additionally, corporate-supported candidates seem to win elections while the rest of contenders, who are usually anti-corporate would struggle to be elected (Potter & Penniman, 2016). Based on this, some politicians, who need money to fund their campaigns would spend a large part of their campaign time at the corporate fundraisers. Consequently, corporate money are considered to figuratively rig out the elections to favor those who maintained corporate interests, and people who were anti-corporates would always be on the losing end (Blumenthal, 2016). The reform is likely to reverse such trends. However, transformation has been limited by the judgment of the US Supreme Court in the Citizens United case that permitted large money donations to federal contenders, and thus restricted the regulation of such candidates by California laws (Brennan Center for Justice, 2012). Nevertheless, while there is still a certain amount of corporate capital in the electoral system, it is less explicit, and its effect is less insidious.

Another advantage is the regulation of lobbyists. The issue of the latter has been a concern in the campaigns and their sources of financing. The job of lobbyists involves operating in proximity to lawmakers and other politicians. Hence, the regulation with regard to their interaction with public officials, and the political process is an important precept of any campaign reform (Hiltachk, Micheli, & Bell, 2015). The requirement to release lobbyists’ sources of funding has helped to rein in the improper impact on civil servants. Moreover, the law explicitly forbids lobbyists to contribute to campaigns of those representatives in which they lobby (Hiltachk, et al., 2015). The reform has reduced the instances of manipulation of lawmakers by the lobbyists, with whom they are in close political and personal proximity. In addition, the law, namely Proposition 34, expanded disclosure requirements for seeking state office such as state legislature (Walters, 2016). Consequently, the reform has ensured that the legislators do not use their powers to enrich themselves in the unjust way.

The entrenchment of corporate capital in the campaign trial has served to make the elections in California, and the whole of American elections less equal. Having big money assist the candidates for them be heard more, to appear in various places, and post more ads via the media (Brennan Center for Justice, 2012). Therefore, the ideological scale of contenders and their merits might become secondary to their media status. However, this vast imbalance of wealth poses danger to democracy as the latter has premises concerning equality. It should include the equal opportunity to be elected, which the unrestricted amount of cash in the electoral system seems to restrict. Furthermore, the limitation of spending for the candidates has ensured that entrenched politicians do not hold power for a very long time due to their ability to raise increasingly more revenues for their campaigns. Nevertheless, there is an issue with this aspect as the control over campaign financing is rarely adjusted for inflation, and thus, progressively over the years, the real amount reduces (Malbin, 2006). Such an adaptation would secure that the contenders earn enough income to cover their expenses during the election period. Hence, the reform of campaign financing has made the space for those with less money.

Moreover, in some instances, cash wins voices in electoral battles. In cases with considerable sums involved in politics, people can ensure that their opponents, especially at the local or state levels, are not visible by hiring the best conference facilities at the expense of their rivals, buying off endorsements from others, as well as adversaries during primaries. However, one school of thought states that this restriction reduces the amount of legal capital, which the candidates can receive, but increases illegal donations while the contenders seek to cover all the costs of their campaign (Walters, 2016). The issue of soft money and independent expenditures, which allow the nominees to raise and use revenue that is outside of their official campaign purse, has served as a way for the politicians to avoid censure for unlawful contributions (Walters, 2016). Consequently, the reform of the maximum amount that people can earn or spend during the elections was a success in this regard, as it would limit cash resources, which the public officials can use to perform nefarious acts.

Another advantage of the reform of campaign finance in California is the reduction of the corrupting influence of money in the political process. While the situation is certainly not perfect, with the California legislature failing to pass a bill that would have restricted the role of cash in politics further, the present adjustments have decreased it to a certain degree (The Times Editorial Board, 2016). There is no doubt that one needs sufficient income for successful campaign. However, most people agree that at some level, finances have the corrupting impact on the political process as the candidate’s pecuniary interests and those of the companies begin to merge, thus potentially creating a conflict (The Times Editorial Board, 2016). Moreover, making the contenders disclose their sources of campaign funding by law assists in the reduction of the number of puppeteers who might affect the nominee behind the scenes. Nevertheless, the positive impact of the reform might be lessened by the fact that Political Action Committees (PACs), which work for the contender without having any direct links to him/her, are the potential loophole in this case (The Times Editorial Board, 2016). A few wealthy individuals might control these PACs. By their sheer size, PACs can sometimes make or break candidacies in the campaign process. Under specific circumstances, there might be a link between the candidate and the PAC thus potentially making him/her act at the behest of the PAC, and in addition, for the benefit of the person controlling it.

Lastly, the campaign finance reform has meant that the public is aware the sources of the funds of contenders. While Milyo (2012) argues that this might not make the society perceive the electoral process as more honest, it will certainly help in some aspects with the common perception of politics. In essence, this has minimized the need for rich individuals to spend large sums of money on candidates in the hope that they will influence them later as such information is now public (Potter & Penniman, 2016). Moreover, the community can speculate on who the major supporters of certain nominees are, and how they would benefit from the politician who will win the election. The same applies to those who will be less inclined to take the campaign donations from corporations or individuals who are likely to comprise them in the future, as this would be not only unethical but also politically inexpedient. Additionally, the reform has assumed power from campaigns to offer quid pro quo to establishments due to disclosure requirements, which means that the public would not be provided with such data.

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There are several positive impacts of the campaign finance reform in California since 2000 until now. Firstly, it caused better turnout during elections as people perceive that they have a role to play in the elections. Secondly, it has also led fewer fundraisers that politicians have to attend. Thus, this has been beneficial for them and the electorate since they can spend more time interacting with voters and ponder policy and legislative issues. Thirdly, the reform has reduced the amount of corporate money in the electoral system and subsequently decreased the influence of big business in the voting system. Furthermore, the reform has the regulation of lobbyists was introduced, which affected public officials by requiring them not to contribute to the campaigns of the representatives they lobby, as this would constitute a quid pro quo arrangement. Since capital may win alternative voices in the electoral process, the restriction of the amount a candidate can raise and spend has helped to create the space for other politicians. Moreover, it has led to reduction of the corrupting practices in the electoral process because the more a corporation or an individual donates to a nominee, the more they are likely to expect something in return. Lastly, it the public knows the source of the money used for running election campaign; hence, any conflicts of interests or quid pro quo arrangements are easily perceived by the community thus discouraging such activities.