Over the past two election cycles, campaign finance laws have been debated on the campaign trail, in Congress and state legislatures, and in courts across the country. Our campaign finance laws, both federally and at the state level, have taken hit after hit over the past decade. Americans are left wondering what will happen if opponents of campaign contribution limits get their way. Well, you don't have to guess. We've had a virtually lawless campaign finance system in Missouri for more than four years. Here's what it looks like:
In Missouri campaigns, any person, corporation, or group can donate any amount of money to any candidate or cause. To put that in perspective, when I ran for state representative in 2008, I could only ask a donor for $325 or less. Missouri's contribution limits were eliminated after that race and, in my campaign for Secretary of State in 2012, one donor gave my opponent a single check for $250,000. By the end of that campaign, the same donor had funneled a total of $875,000 to my opponent's campaign, which accounted for more than 70 percent of the $1.2 million that my opponent raised. And remember, this wasn't a United States Senate Race, a Governor's race, or even a campaign for Congress -- it was for Missouri Secretary of State.
When one donor can account for more than 70 percent of a candidate's money, there's obviously something wrong with the system. People in my state didn't ask for this. In fact, 74 percent of them voted in favor of strict campaign finance limits in a 1994 proposition, however the state legislature defied the will of the people just 14 years later, which placed us in our current mess.
Nationally, Americans are overwhelmingly on the side of campaign finance reform. A HuffPost/YouGov poll from February found that only 11 percent of people oppose the limits on federal campaign contributions. These days, that kind of widespread agreement among Americans on an issue is rarely seen on anything other than the unpopularity of Congress.
So, this should be a no-brainer for politicians, right? Eighty-nine percent of their constituents believe we should have limits on political contributions. Yet there are five states -- including Missouri -- that have no such limits. Six other states only have limits on contributions from corporations and/or labor unions. So why aren't those state's legislatures urgently trying to change the law to reflect the will of their constituents? Frankly, a lot of candidates have no problem being sold to the highest bidder if it means they will win.
When questioned about their support for a broken set of laws, they hide behind the U.S. Supreme Court, which threw our political system into chaos with its ill-conceived Citizens United ruling in 2010. Before the 2014 elections, the Court will most likely rule on another case that could further erode the integrity of our democracy, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. Under current law, individual donors can give up to $123,000 to federal candidates over the two-year election cycle, but each candidate can only receive $2,600 -- meaning that a donor can give the maximum contribution to 47 candidates each cycle. Apparently, some people don't think that is enough, and the Court will decide if it agrees.
I am hopeful that the Court will see the error it made in Citizens United and will not further erode the public's faith in our electoral process. Americans want to be represented by the best candidate, not the one with the richest friends.
It's time we all stand up to our politicians and tell them that we don't want to live in the Wild West of politics. We need rules, and we need limits. I've seen first-hand in Missouri what would happen to America if we lose those, and I don't want the country to mirror our broken campaign finance system.
Jason Kander is Missouri's 39th Secretary of State. He is America's youngest statewide elected official. Follow him on Twitter: @JasonKander