Each cycle, hundreds of millions of dollars pours into our elections through campaign contributions and outside spending. Beyond the obvious opportunity for corruption, this spending makes it nearly impossible for everyday Americans to mount a serious campaign unless they are famous, well-connected, rich or support the priorities of the rich. Even if your message resonates, without resources or notoriety, few people will be able to hear it through the haze of political spending. It’s no wonder, then, that studies have shown that politicians competing for dollars are far more likely to agree with donors than the public at large.
The federal government’s attempts to regulate campaign funding stems from the excesses and corruption of the Gilded Age as well as Teddy Roosevelt’s attempts to take on big business monopolies. Reformers have repeatedly succeeded in forcing the government to pass legislation to try to limit the role of money in our elections. However, in each case, powerful people who built their careers on nearly limitless campaign spending were able to use the Supreme Court, the FEC and other institutions to stymie and undermine reform until the public’s focus shifts.