This past Thursday Rollins College welcomed Dr. Richard Hasen to the Bush Auditorium for a talk on his most recent book, Plutocrats United. The event was made possible by the Rollins College Rita Bornstein Student Leadership Forum, the Department of Political Science, and the Rollins Democracy Project.
Dr. Hasen is the Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California Irvine School of Law, and specializes in legislation, election law and campaign finance regulation. The discussion was centered around the increasing amount of money involved in political campaigns and its implications on voters and policy.
The talk began with an example of how money changes political discourse. Dr. Hasen talked about the Sheldon Adelson scandal, where Republican contenders Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Scott Walker, and Chris Christie “sucked up” to the billionaire Jewish casino mogul for a shot at some extra campaign funding.
The lengths candidates go to in order to receive funding should surprise nobody, as both Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama raised close to $1 billion dollars to fund their campaigns in 2012. However, Dr. Hasen argues that more money in politics does not equate to “bought” elections or widespread government corruption.
“Money does not buy elections,” said Dr. Hasen. Rather, it gives rise to “a system in which economic inequalities are transformed into political equalities.”
Hasen believes that the Citizens United era of campaign finance has very little impact on government corruption, but does have an alarming effect on free speech and income inequality.
Income inequality in the United States means that the wealthy have a great deal of power when it comes to elections. As income increases, so does the amount of money donated to campaigns, the likeliness of voting, and the likeliness of personally knowing a senator or representative. The wealthy also have vastly different political views than the middle class and the poor and frequently vote against increasing the minimum wage and expanding welfare.
Dr. Hasen does still accept that wealthy individuals and corporations have too much power when it comes to their ability to change public policy, and recognizes that changes must be made in order to fix this.
As a potential solution, Dr. Hasen recommends a Vouchers and Limits program. The vouchers aspect would give each citizen $100 to donate to a political candidate, group, or party. This would increase voter competition among regular American citizens and encourage increased interest in politics. Additionally, limits would be placed on the amount individuals or corporations could donate in a specific time period or to a specific group or organization. Dr. Hasen hopes this plan will protect political speech while preventing the rise of a plutocratic class.
Dr. Hasen also acknowledged how difficult it is to reform campaign finance, due to the Supreme Court’s fluctuating interpretation of the First Amendment and the potential negative effects that limiting money in politics could create, especially in regard to the media.
The discussion concluded with questions from the audience, and attendees were given a brief chance to have some discourse with Dr. Hasen.