Supreme Court

Poll: 63 Percent Say Politicians Playing Favorites is Worse than Special Interests' Campaign Contributions


On Wednesday the Supreme Court struck down a decades-old cap on the total amount an individual can contribute during an election cycle to federal candidates or political committees combined. The decision did not change the current $5,200 cap someone can give an individual candidate, but lifted the cap on the total amount an individual could donate across candidates and committees during an election cycle.

Chief Justice John Roberts writing in the majority explained: "The First Amendment safeguards an individual's right to participate in the public debate through political expression and political association" and that, "the government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse."

Critics of the decision argue strict government regulation of campaign donations is necessary to ensure the wealthy and powerful do not hijack democracy. In the dissenting opinion Justice Breyer wrote: "Where enough money calls the tune…the general public will not be heard" and that the decision "undermines, perhaps devastates, what remains of campaign finance reform."

As demonstrated in the latest Reason-Rupe poll, the public is also concerned about political corruption, despite the campaign finance laws already in place. On average Americans think 75 percent of elected officials are corrupted by campaign moneyand lobbyists and 70 percent use their political power to help their friends and hurt enemies.

Yet, the question remains: who is to blame for corruption and political favoritism?

While Americans support campaign finance regulation in various forms, the latest Reason-Rupe poll finds the public places more blame on the politicians themselves who play favorites than the money potentially incentivizing their behavior.

When asked which is a more serious problem, 63 percent said "elected officials enacting policies and spending taxpayer money that benefits the special interests they favor" is worse than "special interest groups spending private money on campaigns to elect the politicians they favor." Thirty-percent said campaign donations were the more serious problem.

This suggests that Americans believe the point at which the problem occurs is not when a special interest group sends money to a politician, but rather the moment the politician decides to use government power to grant special favors to interest groups.

Although the public holds the politicians themselves primarily accountable for favoritism rather than interest groups, the debate continues over what reforms would more effectively curb bad behavior in politicians.

Some argue for curbing the political donations that incentivize bad behavior and playing favorites. Others contend campaign finance regulations are just a band aid for a larger problem: these politicians would have less ability to play favorites in the first place if we limited what they were able to use government to do. Both reforms come with costs; the former necessarily curbs speech and free expression in the process of regulating donations. Limiting government's power also constrains its ability to be used as a tool to address societal ills.

NEXT: Mozilla CEO's Resignation Over Donation to Anti-Gay Marriage Campaign Sparks Commentary and Myth

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  1. …the government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse.

    But what if the government was a stakeholder in said newspaper?

  2. Limiting government’s power also constrains its ability to be used as a tool to address societal ills.

    When was the last time a societal ill was addressed effectively?

    When they locked up Typhoid Mary?

    1. Well, before the FDA all food was poison!
      Before the Department of Education there were no schools!
      Before welfare there was no charity!
      Without government there would be no roads or bridges!
      Without government funding there would be no scientific research!

      You didn’t build that!

  3. Semi-Off Topic, but an annoyance to me because it’s in a congressional district that shares my ‘media market’.

    An out of stater with just enough residency is trying to buy the congressional seat of a mostly rural upstate district. I keep having to hear from the TEAM shills about how this guy with no personal or professional record is a ‘reformer’ because of the blather in his platform. (NOTE: I do not vote in the district in question) And now the prat says this.

    I’d ignore him if it wasn’t one of those loud and outspoken campaigns.

    1. Damn you! Trigger warning next time!! I clicked that and saw Senator Moobs displaying his unbridled genius:

      Chuck Schumer (D-NY) disagrees however, stating that “I believe there ought to be limits because the First Amendment is not absolute.”

      Odd, when I read this:
      Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

      I seem to be missing these limits that Moobs finds.

      1. It’s New York Politics. What more warning do you need? How can anyone reading the comments on a libertarian blog not be offended?

  4. People are against politicians playing favorites unless it involves their politician bringing pork back into their district.

    1. That sort of behaviour isn’t kosher, it’s done all sorts of damage to the district even when the incumbent wasn’t an actual felon. But my fellow voters prove themselves to be flaiming morons every november.

  5. In the dissenting opinion Justice Breyer wrote: “Where enough money calls the tune?the general public will not be heard”

    No offense to the esteemed member of the bench, but not only does Justice Breyer’s opinion fail to follow logically, it’s downright idiotic. It accuses the electorate of having been bribed (because advertisements, I guess, are vote-buying), and politicians of engaging in quid pro quo without direct evidence of a transactional relationship. And the ultimate power of who gets elected still rests in the ballot box, not at the TV station or the radio station.

    1. I may not agree with it, but it’s not downright idiotic. Att’n is a limited resource. One can gain att’n only by taking it away from someone else. So it comes with a price, and those willing & able to pay for more att’n deprive it from others.

      1. Even if you do pay attention to any particular candidate, that’s no guarantee you won’t walk into the voting booth and vote for the other guy, or just leave that particular race blank.

        Anecdotally, the more President Know-Nothing/Jug-Ears/I Inherited This/Teleprompter drew my attention, more intent I was to NOT vote for him.

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