I have written several posts recently advocating for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A number of people have responded (on FaceBook) that we don’t really need a BBA, we just need to elect honest politicians who won’t be corrupted by money. Candidates at all levels need money to run a campaign. Candidates will inevitably be grateful to their contributors and, if elected, will want to return the favor. If the donors are publicly identified, then the influence of their money can be kept track of.
In fact it is dark money, not money in general, which is the big problem:
- Jeb Bush, in single digits in the Republican polls, has raised far more money than any other candidate. Donald Trump, far ahead in the polls, is near the bottom of the list in money raised. But Mr. Trump has enough money, and media attention, to get his message out.
- Bernie Sanders, who is rapidly gaining on Hillary Clinton in most polls, has only raised two-thirds as much money as Ms. Clinton. Again, Mr. Sanders is getting his message out, which is what counts.
- Where dark (i.e. individual donors are undisclosed) money has been so effective is in races for the U.S. Senate which are somewhat under the radar with regard to national exposure. For example, in 2014, in 10 closely contested Senate races, eight of the winners were heavily supported with dark money.
It is often suggested that we need an amendment to the Constitution to overturn Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited political contributions from outside groups. I think that such an amendment would be very difficult to either propose by a two-thirds vote or to be ratified by three-fourths of the states. Congress itself could outlaw dark money by simply passing an appropriate law.
On the other hand, enacting a Balanced Budget Amendment is far more feasible. In fact 27 states have already called for a Constitutional Convention to propose such an amendment. Only 7 more states are needed to do this and we’ll be on the way!