In what’s perhaps a prime example of why there’s so much public skepticism about the money flowing to political campaigns, the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) voted against further investigating a Boston based law firm that manipulated the system to give donations to various candidates that exceeded the amount allowed by federal law.
Partners from the Thorton Law Firm gave millions of dollars to campaigns and were eventually given “bonuses” that conveniently matched the exact amount of money they had donated to candidates. In a 33 page report on the case, the FEC made it clear that something very sketchy happened here but decided against pursuing the matter any further — a move that’s raised a lot of concern among advocates for more accountability in the political process. But a tie vote of 2-2 on the issue meant there would be no more movement on the investigation.
Members of the FEC can’t be accused of being on a partisan witch hunt either as most of the donations from Thornton Law went to Democratic candidates, but it was the Democratic FEC members who voted in favor of furthering the investigation. The Republicans, however, have a history of supporting the ability of multi-millionaires and corporations to give as much money as possible to campaigns. Those beliefs unfortunately mean the outcome of the vote wasn’t too surprising.
While this is just one case that’s receiving attention primarily in New England, the national discussion surrounding political donations has become a big part of the political debate in recent years. Not only is the political media discussing it, but candidates are highlighting it while they’re out on the campaign trail.
During her primary campaign against Joe Crowley in New York City, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was quick to point out that her opponent frequently scooped up huge donations from the uber wealthy who might desire to have extra influence over the Congressman. In Virginia, there’s also a big movement among state and local candidates to avoid taking donations from corporations like Dominion Energy — a public utility company that has an enormous amount of influence in the state capital of Richmond.
How money is raised has also reached the 2020 presidential campaign as there are literally dozens of candidates on the Democratic side trying to get their message out to voters. Candidates like Elizabeth Warren are refusing to take donations from corporate PACs and going after people like Joe Biden for holding high dollar fundraisers that essentially sell access to the candidates.
“Joe Biden raised $750,000 from wealthy donors at just one private fundraising event this week,” her campaign said in an email to supporters earlier this month. “Elizabeth doesn’t host any exclusive fundraisers like that — where you can only get in and meet her if you can write a big check — because her time is not for sale.”
The obvious argument is that Sen. Warren would be more accountable to the general public, whereas Biden would only be beholden to a few high dollar donors. It might seem a little political insidery, but it’s a message that seems to be resonating and is picking up steam.
As it stands with the case involving the Thornton Law Firm, many candidates have already returned donations they received from the firm and there’s an appeals process in place that could result in some sort of action in the future. But the real debate should focus in on how the public can hold politicians more accountable regarding the money they receive and whose best interests are truly being represented in the political process.