Campaign finances: it is up to you to follow the money

Jesse Carey


Jesse Carey
Jesse Carey

On Sept. 8, the U.S. Senate advanced an early proposal for a constitutional amendment that would have allowed Congress to regulate campaign reform going forward. This would have effectively nullified Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee, a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 2010 that demolished a century’s worth of campaign finance law.


Essentially, the Supreme Court found that money is the same thing as speech, and by limiting the amounts of money that Corporations and Unions were able to spend in elections, the U.S. Elections Commission was violating the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The result of all of this was the two most extravagantly expensive elections in U.S. History, and 2014 looks to be much of the same. Money has poured in from corporations and from Political Action Committees (PACs) whose origins and interests are often murky at best.

While the amendment moved initially moved forward with a surprising amount of momentum — 71 senators voted for it — Senate Republicans blocked the amendment two days later. As it turns out, the only reason the amendment had even a little bipartisanship support is because it was a maneuver to force the Senate Democrats to spend time on a politically dead issue before the recess, thus ensuring that as little as possible gets done.

While this craven political gambling is a matter all its own, it means that for all intents and purposes, the goal of campaign reform remains a nonstarter, especially with the election two months away.

When it comes to money and politics, the Supreme Court does not have your best interests at heart, and with its latest round of maneuvering, Congress has shown that it does not either.

Luckily, citizens have some options to make sense of where all the money is coming from and going to. These options include traditional websites that break down the money spent in elections, from to There is a plug-in for web browsers called Greenhouse that will highlight a politician’s campaign contributors every time his or her name comes up in a story.

There are also apps for smartphones that also expose the money trails left by campaigns. One of these, Ad Hawk, will immediately notify the user of which organization is behind a political ad. Another, called BuyPartisan, will allow shoppers in a store to see exactly which companies are donating to which parties.

All of these apps and websites give citizens a way of understanding and exposing the vast amounts of money that are being poured into elections. As long as Congress remains indifferent to campaign reform, these are the best tools available to citizens. It is important that you are aware of these money trails — after all, as a citizen of the United States vested with the power of the vote, it is your responsibility to be as informed and prepared as possible going into the elections.

Collegian Columnist Jesse Carey can be reach at or on Twitter @junotbend.