Panel asks ‘Is the sky the limit?’ with campaign finance

Dan Lykens

Priscilla Bonilla, Correspondent

Sigma Pi, Wilkes’s chapter of the Pi Sigma Alpha National Political Science Honor Society, hosted a panel discussion entitled “Is the Sky the Limit? Campaign Finance in the 2012 Election Cycle and Beyond,” featuring Temple political science professor Robin Kolodny and journalist Kenneth Vogel along with Wilkes political science professors Tom Baldino and Kyle Kreider.

“Legally the sky is the limit of how much people can give,” Vogel, a reporter for Politico, said. “The only limit will be when or if the donors come to believe they are wasting their money.”

The panel discussion was held at 5 p.m. on April 4 in the Henry Student Center Ballroom. Sigma Pi funded this event through a grant it received from Pi Sigma Alpha National Political Science Honor Society. The Chapter Activity Grant is given to chapters who show involvement with the elections year after year.

“The importance is to teach people something about campaign finance, and show its advantages and disadvantages,”  Sigma Pi President Brandon Wesneski said. “Campaign finance is something that has taken over the presidential elections since 2008.”

Vogel’s discussion focused on the way the growth of big money has changed the political process by loosening the control that the parties and candidates once had over campaigns.

During the discussion, the panel explained the idea “money is speech.” In the 2010 and 2012 elections there was a larger amount of money from outside groups, allowing these groups to gain more say and power in the campaigns.

It has been argued in several court cases whether this idea of outside contributions should be allowed. And there have been different regulations established such as Super Political Action Committees, 527 groups and 501(c)s.

Super PAC’s raise and spend money without a limit. The money is collected from anyone, not directly contributed to candidates or parties, but it is reported to the Federal Election Commission. The Super PAC is considered to be the most effective.

“Money is speech, you cannot limit speech, therefore you cannot limit money,” Professor of political science and Sigma Pi adviser Tom Baldino said.

Vogel said advocates for reducing the power of money in politics reject the Supreme Court’s assessment that money equals speech. These advocators believe that this weakens the concept of one person, one vote.

The panel agreed that outside funds have a positive and negative effect. Vogel said he believes these funds do have a potential for chaos. The chaos effect is that those who may not have a chance to run a significant campaign have the financial support to still have a strong impact and effect other candidates who might have more establishment support, he said.

Kolodny focused on two particular questions. Does the spending do anything other than allow donors their freedoms of expression, and do voters respond to the extra ads?

He said the response voters have to the extra campaign ads is of concern for addressing our generation, the students, who do not watch television in “real time” and consume cheap methods of communication. These cheap methods are Twitter, Facebook and Hulu to name a few.

Kolodny said you cannot tell rich people what they can do with their money. So the essential question is whether voters are persuaded by these appeals. Some independent voters can be, but we can’t depend on them to vote as much as partisans who are more resistant to these messages, Kolodny said.

For example, Kolodny has been watching a lot of basketball recently, and has viewed a lot of messages about PowerAde, Bud Lite and Miller Lite, yet she still doesn’t consume them.  She said even if these companies tripled their advertising budgets, she still wouldn’t buy them.

“So that is how you have to view it,” Kolodny said.

The sky maybe the limit for outside contributors but are people affected?  When will these rich people leave politics behind them and find a new hobby to spend their money on, Vogel asked.