BC Expert: Supreme Court Ruling on Campaign Contributions
KAY LEHMAN SCHLOZMAN
BOSTON COLLEGE MOAKLEY PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE
Kay Lehman Schlozman is the Moakley Professor of Political Science whose principal research focus is citizen participation in American politics. She also has expertise in broad areas of American political life; parties and elections, interest groups, voting and public opinion, political movements, money in politics, and the gender gap in citizen political activity. Professor Schlozman is the co-author of five books including her most recent, The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2012). She is also the editor of Elections in America and was the chair of the American Political Science Association's section on Elections, Public Opinion and Voting Behavior.
Turning its back on an election law capping campaign contributions that have been in effect for decades, the Supreme Court has ruled there is no limit to how much an individual can contribute to federal candidates during an election cycle.
“I’ve been studying inequality of political voice for a very long time and what this does is gives yet another advantage to those with deep pockets to influence public outcomes,” says Kay Schlozman, Moakley Professor of Political Science at Boston College whose expertise is citizen participation in American politics. “For as long as we’ve been able to measure, the government has heard more from people who are well educated and affluent than from people who have a limited education and limited means. There’s only so many letters that you can write to influence a politician but you can write very, very big checks and now those checks have gotten bigger and that invites a circumstance where our relative opportunity to influence public outcomes has tilted even further in the direction of those who have deep financial resources.
“The first time we defined money as a form of speech was somewhat obliquely in a Supreme Court decision in 1976 and in the 2000’s there were a series of Supreme Court decisions that went further in that direction,” says Schlozman, co-author of five books including, The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy. “It’s not a slam dunk of an interpretation that giving money is a protected form of expression but that’s how the Court has increasingly been defining it in recent years.”
Schlozman and other experts expect money to play an even bigger role in elections, especially now that party bosses will be allowed to ask for supersized checks, something they had been unable to do since Congress banned soft money in 2002.
“The genius of American democracy is that it provides a level playing field in which all of our votes count equally,” says Schlozman, editor of Elections in America and former chair of the American Political Science Association's section on Elections, Public Opinion and Voting Behavior. “But if we are getting opportunities in a sense to vote more than once by getting after the politicians in a variety of ways, that gives some people a chance to have more political input than others.”
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