With the Iowa caucus, electoral politics have made a rather splashy re-entrance to the public dialogue, and a familiar bogeyman has snuck in with it.
Since the Supreme Court issued its decision in Citizens United v. FEC in 2010 politicians on the left and right have sought to curry easy electoral points by vilifying this victory for freedom of speech, superseded in importance only by the ratification of the First Amendment.
Every election is met with the shrill, belabored chorus descrying money in politics.
“Corporations are stealing elections,” drone some.
“Money in politics corrupts democracy,” others whine.
Already in the 2016 cycle Donald Trump has attempted to mitigate his loss in Iowa by painting himself as some sort of martyr for transparent elections. From his Twitter pulpit, the real estate mogul pontificated on his decision to self-fund his campaign in the easily recognizable, morally aggrandizing tone of some Puritan puffed up with their own righteousness.
Of course, the venial snippet rhetoric of modern elections which is facilitated by digital politics allowed the fact that he has no control over what kind of money super PACS that support him receive or from whom.
Also in the immediate aftermath of Iowa, the AP ran a wire story so saturated with Citizens United alarmism it would have read like satire were it not for the appropriately sober quotes from 2016 candidates loudly affirming their belief in electoral parity, as if this were somehow an issue.
Of course, nowhere in any post-Iowa news articles or candidate stump speeches was there even the subtlest expression of concern of the effect giving voting tabulation over to privatized companies whose executives quite rightly exercise their freedom of speech through campaign contributions.
This kind of hollow, emotionalistic rhetoric speaks volumes, but not in the way politicians think.
Money is merely a tool of exchange, a scale of values that allows large sums to be condensed and easily traded. It empowers those whose wealth cannot be quantified in material goods that can be bartered. In many aspects it is the sole reason civilization has risen beyond the primitive. Economies of scale dependent upon the free exchange of guns and butter hardly grow into empires.
It would be foolish to assert, however, that something so empiricism has the power to do good or ill; it simply exists. Rather, the system frees people to act for good or ill.
Politicians who demonize money reveal two things. First, they expose their own fecklessness. Since money cannot steal an election or corrupt a public official; the nefarious intent must already be present. Politicians who do not point to this obvious fact in their defense reveal their own weakness of character. They should be disqualified from consideration of holding higher office.
Second, they reveal just how little they think of voters. They suggest voters aren’t smart enough to figure out for themselves that political hit ads payed for by super PACS with innocuous sounding names might be funded by powerful special interests with an agenda and to adjust their support accordingly. As if this weren’t enough, they further infantilize the constituents they supposedly answer to by insisting they need government bureaucracy to protect them and think for them.
Lastly, those who demonize campaign finance reform deny vary basic principles of natural law. All entities are self-interested. They must be in order to thrive. Special interest groups only follow their basic instincts. This becomes a nefarious conspiracy only when politicians allow themselves to be bought and sold.