“Elections should be determined by who has the best ideas, not who can hustle the most money from the rich and powerful.” There are the words of Bernie Sanders, a candidate for the Democrat nomination for the 2016 presidential election, famous for being a self-described democratic socialist and the longest serving independent in Congress. While Sanders is known for pushing political boundaries, his views on money in politics are not exactly radical. A recent CBS-New York Times poll has shown that a whopping 84 percent of people (90 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Republicans) think that money has too much influence on political campaigns today. 46 percent of respondents believed that the system for funding political campaigns is so flawed it must be completely rebuilt.
Although campaign financing did not rank high on the list of most important problems facing the United States (the economy and jobs, predictably, dominated the poll), campaign funding is becoming an important talking point in the long run up to next year’s election. For example, Hillary Clinton, the predicted front-runner for the Democratic nomination, has made campaign financing a key element of her campaign. “We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all—even if it takes a constitutional amendment,” Clinton said at an event in April 2015.
The controversy around money in politics revolves largely around recent developments in laws about campaign funding. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that there cannot be limits on third-party spending on political campaigns. This ruling was based on the First Amendment. But why is third-party political spending important? What is the public’s concern?
The New York Times released the following video, explaining “the murky process of campaign contributions and the impact of anonymous donations on the political system.”
In many ways, the question of campaign finance is similar to many other questions we ask about the government, the United States, and the world we live in. Decisions about issues like how money in politics should (or should not) be regulated revolve around values. Values play a key role when defining the broad parameters of public policy. What do we believe about ourselves? What matters most to us? When strongly held values come into conflict, which are most important? Equality or free speech? The democracy of changing a system that most people believe to be in need of an overhaul, or the stability of maintaining a system that is not ideal but works? Some values fit together well. Others are in conflict. Governments and their citizens are constantly being forced to choose among competing values in their ongoing debates about public policy.
The Options Roles Play in Choices curriculum units not only invites students to identify and express the key values present in different policy perspectives or options, it also creates a framework where students can identify and prioritize their own values. As the United States enters this long campaign period, recognizing values and how they relate to policy will be a vital part of being an engaged citizen and choosing a government that will help create the kind of future you want to see.
Related resources from the Choices Program:
Considering the Role of Values in Public Policy is an activity that uses “value cards” to analyze how political values play a part in civic life.
The U.S. Role in a Changing World is a full-length curriculum unit where students reflect on global changes, assess national priorities, and decide for themselves the role the United States should play in the world today. It places U.S. policy in global perspective, inviting students to decide how the United States should frame its future.