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Clements is president of American Promise, which seeks to limit the power of corporate, union, political party and super PAC money in politics.
Faith in our political system is at an all-time low. In a recent poll, a record 89 percent of respondents said they view the government as being run by a few big interests looking out for themselves instead of "for the benefit of all the people." (The figure was at 64 percent a decade ago.) By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, Americans believe their "vote does not matter because of the influence that wealthy individuals and big corporations have on the electoral process." And 90 percent agree that elected officials are more interested in appealing to campaign donors than addressing the common good.
Americans are right to believe their interests aren't represented in political outcomes. Research shows economic elites and corporations have a dominant impact on policy, but most citizens have virtually no impact. As money from concentrated factions pours into elections in record amounts, voter turnout remains low, as does satisfaction with candidates, elected officials and the direction of the country generally.
While these issues are critical to our nation, options for legislative solutions are limited in light of Supreme Court decisions that have construed the First Amendment's freedom of speech clause as allowing unlimited spending by corporations, unions and individuals with the financial means to influence elections. Today, whether the spender is Apple (estimated 2018 revenue, $273 billion), its CEO (2018 pay, $120 million), or Jane Smith (annual pay before taxes, $45,000), each "voice" is free to "speak" to voters and candidates by spending money.
Amid mounting concerns about systemic corruption, unequal representation, and undue control of elections and policymaking by powerful wealthy interests, Americans of every political persuasion seek a solution to help ensure political equality for all citizens. Polls and ballot initiatives consistently show extraordinary support among Americans – exceeding 75 percent of Democrats, Republicans and independents — for a 28th Amendment to the Constitution to empower Congress and the states to regulate money in elections, combat corruption, revise how constitutional rights apply to corporations and secure equal representation.
The case creating the 1976 Supreme Court decision declaring that spending limits, imposed on candidates and outside groups five years before, were unconstitutional limits on free speech.
There looks to be a new twist in the decades of voter ambivalence toward those rich enough to finance their own campaigns: For former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, being a billionaire seems to be more of a hindrance than a help as he ponders seeking the presidency as an independent.
In the cases of both Mitt Romney (who spent $45 million of his own fortune as the GOP nominee in 2012) and Donald Trump (whose $66 million investment was just one-fifth of what his campaign spent in 2016), "there were only muted complaints about the unfair advantages of being a candidate who could hold a fund-raiser staring at the mirror in the morning," veteran political analyst Walter Shapiro writes for the Brennan Center for Justice. "That's why the widespread scorn for Schultz's initial foray into the 2020 race marks an unexpected change in public attitudes towards self-funders."
Running on a deep-pocket, I-can't-be-bought platform has its limits, however, he notes with this important nugget of campaign finance analysis from the 2018 midterms: 19 congressional candidates who spent more than $1 million of their own did not get past the primaries. "The anti-Schultz onslaught may have a far larger meaning than the fate of his individual candidacy. Because of Buckley v. Valeo, social disapproval is the only weapon available to deter billionaires from dominating politics."