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editorial

Bonacic and campaign finance reform


October 19, 2016

In a debate between Republican New York State Sen. John Bonacic and Democratic challenger Pramilla Malick sponsored by The Times-Herald Record on October 13, Malick expressed the view that companies that have business before the state should not be able to donate to the campaigns of elected state officials.

In his response regarding campaign finance reform, Bonacic said that there should be disclosure and transparency, but that to suggest that a politician can’t do what’s best for the people in determining public policy because he or she has accepted a donation, “I think that’s a fallacy.”

It is possible that some politicians can indeed accept money from a company and then ignore that fact when it comes to making decisions that will impact that company’s bottom line, but it is also clear that very often, politicians accept money from corporations and then vote in ways that help the company.

A majority of Americans disagree with Bonacic’s premise. A New York Times/CBS survey from June 2015 asked respondents, “How often do you think candidates who win public office promote policies that directly help the people and groups who donated money to their campaigns: most of the time, sometimes, rarely or never?” The majority, 55%, answered “Most of the Time.”

In the same survey, 84% of respondents said that money has too much influence in American political campaigns. And this is typical of other surveys regarding money in politics.

In the debate, Bonacic pointed out that the Citizen’s United Decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, which allows wealthy individuals and companies and other groups to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, is the “law of the land.” Asked if he agreed with the decision he replied, “It’s the law of the land, whether I agree with it or not, I follow the law.”

True, it is the law of the land, but the law of the land can change and probably will. It seems likely that if Hillary Clinton is elected and becomes president, she will fill the current void on the court, and that she will do so with a person who is not likely to agree with the five-to-four Citizens United decision. Clinton will probably also have the opportunity to seat other justices in the future. So, when and if the matter comes before the court again, there’s a good possibility that the Citizens United will be overturned.