Editorial: Voting still trumps money in politics

Published 10:03 am Thursday, April 10, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down limits on aggregate campaign contributions for individual donors likely left many voters disheartened that once again their influence in representative democracy was further eroded.

The ruling makes it easy to conclude that money talks in our constitutional democracy and the Supreme Court just gave wealthy donors a megaphone.

We hope voters and non-voters see it differently.

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The Supreme Court ruling should be a clarion call if not a three alarm fire to prompt the average voter to get even more engaged in not only voting but grass roots democracy.

We don’t have to look far to see how big money campaigns still failed because their messages didn’t resonate with voters.

In Minnesota history, we need only go back to the first election of former Sen. Paul Wellstone in 1990.

His challenger, incumbent Rudy Boschwitz, outspent Wellstone seven to one. Wellstone rode a populist message to victory in a state that had elected dozens of Republicans to state and national offices just a decade earlier.

Still, overcoming such a barrage of talking points and attack ads that are designed to appeal to our worst fears and ingrained biases is still no small task. It’s not easier with supposedly “objective” and “balanced” national broadcast media taking sides like they’ve never taken before.

If they don’t take sides, they focus on the controversies and personalities instead of the issues.

The Supreme Court ruling will likely amplify that campaign noise and static and ultimate deception.

The court essentially allowed individuals to contribute the limit for one campaign to as many campaigns or committees as they desire. Previous election law had set a limit of a total of about $123,000 per election cycle.

The ruling would allow individuals to now donate up to $3.6 million through various means that could eventually flow directly to a candidate or a party committee, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The donations would still have to be disclosed under campaign contribution laws, but most could be easily disguised for their ultimate destination.

The ruling comes a few years after another by the Supreme Court — the Citizens United case — where the Supreme Court ruled corporations and unions could give unlimited money to what are described as independent political activities. That ruling prompted the creation of so called Super PACS that could then engage not all too subtly in election campaigns.

So what’s a voter or, for that matter, a non-voter to do? First, non-voters should become voters. Campaigns can track people who vote and therefore target messages at that demographic whatever it might be.

A big increase in non-voters voting throws a big curve into that system.

The best example of that was the election of Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. An independent and dark horse, Ventura was shown to be losing in early polls. But a great number of young, first-time voters turned out unexpectedly and threw the victory to Ventura in a three-way race.

As always, voters should get informed. It’s harder than it used to be with all the unreliable news sources, blogs and unvetted Internet news providers out there.

So, it’s important to find a credible source of information — one that has been around for a long time and has sustained a viable business model with real paying customers.

Directly contacting those running for office should not be underestimated. Many consider a few calls or letters on a subject representative of how a lot of other people might feel.

If they get a lot of negative feedback on an attack ad some outside group might be running supporting them, they might to disavow it.

In the end, money makes a difference in campaigns. But how much of a difference it makes is largely up to voters.

— Mankato Free Press, April 4

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Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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