It’s safe to assume that when most people say they want the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision to be overturned, it’s because they’ve seen its disastrous effects and they want to see big money have less influence in politics. But GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who inspired a flurry of headlines on Monday when he expressed his support for reversing the decision, actually wants instead what many would consider an even worse system: one where billionaires can give unlimited money directly to the candidates themselves.
It’s almost hard to imagine a campaign finance landscape more broken than the one we currently have, but Jeb! has done it. As MSNBC’s Steve Benen points out, his vision seems to rest on the question: why have donors give millions to outside groups like super PACs, when you can have those millions just go straight to the candidates?
For one, because this would plainly undermine one of the few remaining rules aimed at preventing “corruption” in our democracy. Even the conservative majority of the Supreme Court has recognized that donors shouldn’t be able to directly hand unlimited sums of money to campaigns.
Another reason -- and one that Bush and the other national GOP leaders would be wise to pay more attention to -- is that Americans across the board, including Republican voters, overwhelmingly want to see real reforms to our system, reforms that actually curtail the outsized influence of wealthy special interests in our democracy rather than simply redirect the big money from super PACs straight to the campaigns. More than seven in ten Republicans favor limits on how much money people can give to campaigns. Eight in ten Republicans say that money has too much influence in political campaigns, and that our campaign finance system needs either “fundamental changes” or to be remade entirely. I’m pretty sure they don’t want to see it rebuilt in order for candidates to be able to directly collect eight-figure checks from the likes of Sheldon Adelson.
It makes sense that presidential candidates from both political parties are “talking the talk” on money in politics. Calling out the harmful influence of our big money system is politically popular, and candidates are smart to bring it up. But until GOP candidates are willing to walk the walk by calling for a comprehensive set of solutions to big money in politics, the gap between Republican voters and national Republican leaders on this issue will continue to grow.
As more than five million Americans agree, overturning Citizens United is an idea whose time has come. But it also matters what happens after it’s overturned. And if what comes next is a system where campaigns can take multi-million dollar contributions directly from billionaire donors, as Jeb Bush would like to see, then our money in politics problem will certainly not have been solved.