Democracy Works: The Complicated Relationship Between Campaign Finance and Democracy
In the United States, voting is a very private act. You step into the booth alone and, for a lot of people, it's considered taboo to tell someone who you voted for. Campaign donations, however, are a different story.
The Federal Election Commission, an independent regulatory agency established after Watergate, collects donor information from candidates, makes it available to the public, and enforces federal campaign finance laws. Anyone can go online and look up records to see who gave money to a particular candidate — to a point, anyway.
In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. FEC that political spending was protected under the First Amendment. This opened the flood gates to so-called "dark money" groups that allow corporations and other organizations to give to a Political Action Committee (PAC) that in turn backs a candidate. Much of this spending is not publicly disclosed. It added up to more than $500 million in the 2018 midterms.
FEC Chair Caroline Hunter joins us this week to explore the relationship between campaign finance and democracy. Hunter has been on the commission since 2008 and has seen the impact of the Citizens United ruling firsthand. She makes an interesting connection between PACs and political polarization — and how it all ties back to democratic participation.
Caroline is a Penn State alumna and, prior to joining the FEC, she worked for the Republican National Committee. The FEC is a bipartisan commission with three Republicans and three Democrats, though two positions are currently vacant. Caroline talks about how that bipartisan nature might expand to other parts of the government and who reads FEC filings.