When big money groups anywhere in the nation can support a candidate with however much money they want, the democratic process gets murky. Limiting the amount an individual and/or group can spend on a campaign is a popular idea. According to a 2018 Pew Research Study, 77% of Americans support such regulations. And though many people have run on campaign finance reform, there has been very little movement in most of the country. It turns out it’s a much better issue to run on than it is to legislate, at least in terms of perpetually keeping a job.
Campaign finance legislation needs to be more aggressive, but it also needs to go beyond simply limiting the amount of money an individual can contribute. When looking at the issue through the lens of subsidiarity, it becomes evident that we must also put limits on who can contribute to what campaigns.
The principle of subsidiarity states that a community of a higher order should not interfere with the function of a community of a lower order. Only functions that are beyond the ability of the lower community to handle should be handled by the community of the higher order. And even in the circumstances where a community of higher order is needed, that community should only act in support of the lower community.
A simple example of an ideal subsidiary situation is policing. Families have certain rights regarding their property and those rights should be in balance with the powers of local police. The local police, in turn, have certain rights to act in their particular municipality; rights that should not be infringed upon by state enforcement agencies unless necessary. This continues up to the federal level. And just as the higher level law enforcement is not to infringe on the particular rights of municipal law enforcement, the law enforcement of a one municipality should not infringe upon the jurisdiction of their neighbor.
Our government follows this basic structure, with municipal offices overseeing the functions of a municipality, county offices overseeing the county, and so on up to national offices. And as higher-order communities remain separate from lower-order communities whenever possible, two lower-order communities remain separate in any instance of dealing with local authority. Citizens from one municipality cannot tell elected officials from another how they should execute the duties of their office. Citizens of Los Angeles cannot tell the Mayor of Pittsburg how to behave – unless, of course, they made large contributions to his or her campaign.
“The Campaign Finance Localization Act aims to secure nearly all the potential monetary influence over any given election safely in the hands of those it directly affects.”
During the recent elections in Georgia, money poured in from around the country for all four top candidates. According to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog, the candidates received over $167 million from ActBlue and WinRed, fundraising platforms created to send money to Democratic and Republican candidates, respectively. While Democrats and Republicans don’t have much in common these days, they do have this: both received over 90% of their donations through these platforms from out-of-state donors. That’s a problem and a heavy dose of subsidiarity is needed to fix it.
That is why my proposed legislation, the Campaign Finance Localization Act, aims to do away with the outsized influence outside money has on our elections. The major provision of this Act is to allow only those who live within the area administered to or governed by any elected position to contribute to a candidate running for that position. Corporations must have a physical location in the area and, since the Supreme Court has determined corporations are people, each corporation will be allowed to donate the same maximum amount as an individual citizen.
Further, the Act treats a political party as a single individual as well, disallowing the practice of funneling money from a ‘safe’ district to a more contested district. In short, this bill aims to secure nearly all the potential monetary influence over any given election safely in the hands of those it directly affects.
A weakness of this bill is that it does not set specific spending limits and, if adopted nationally, it would allow presidential campaigns to continue raking in avalanches of questionably sourced funds. However, as the main goal of this proposed legislation is to protect the influence citizens have on their most direct representatives, it seemed reasonable to focus on keeping local elections local. As such, I would highly advise that anyone looking to use this bill either as a piece of policy to run on or a bill to submit for consideration add a section that discusses contribution limits specific to your municipality, district, county, or state.
I recognize that this bill may negatively impact the American Solidarity Party at first (the spread-out nature of the party’s supporters makes funding specific campaigns more difficult under these provisions), but I believe that it achieves an important goal of the party by localizing politics. The vision, after all, is to create legislation that is a win for our neighbors. Any win for the people of the United States is a win for the ASP.
Brendan Lyons is an author and the Associate Editor for the National Catholic Bioethics Center. Opinions expressed in this article are his own and may not reflect the opinions of his employer.