The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is the governing body responsible for overseeing campaign finance in the United States. It provides candidates with the information and resources they need to meet their ethical and legal requirements. However, the content provided by the FEC may be out of date or no longer applicable. In 1951, a group of poor voters went to the Supreme Court to challenge a long-standing obstacle to our democracy.
The Supreme Court confirmed the electoral tax as constitutional, paving the way for a new legal movement to continue the tradition represented by Annie Harper. This movement seeks to eradicate the current wealth barrier to our democracy: the system of privately funded public electoral campaigns. It is a movement to overthrow a U. S.
Supreme Court ruling that equated money with freedom of expression and that sanctioned unlimited campaign spending in our federal elections. In 1953, the Supreme Court decided the last of what are known as the white primary cases. Terry v. Adams was one such case, in which Terry participated in the process of nominating candidates before the primary of an exclusively white political organization in Texas. The Jaybird Democratic Association, a large private political club open only to white voters in Texas, had for years nominated candidates to run in the Democratic Party's primary.
The Supreme Court ruled that this process of exclusion was unconstitutional and annulled the Jaybird primary. Today, a similar legal movement has emerged to challenge another form of exclusionary primaries: those based on wealth. Like its predecessor, this system is exclusive and decisive. Candidates and voters who lack wealth and access to wealth are effectively excluded from the process. And the candidate who raises the most money almost always wins the election. The Supreme Court addressed this issue in its 1976 decision in Buckley v.
Valeo. The Court determined that money was equivalent to freedom of expression and sanctioned unlimited campaign spending in federal elections. However, this ruling did not address the equal protection rights of all candidates and voters who are left behind in the fundraising process due to their lack of money and access to money. In Virginia State Board of Elections v. Virginia State Board of Elections (1983), the Supreme Court established for the first time that wealth cannot serve as a barrier to voting rights.
The Court invalidated a system that imposed high submission rates on potential candidates for public office who lacked both personal wealth and wealthy sponsors, effectively preventing them from running for office regardless of their qualifications or popular support. The same principle applies today: if you have money or can raise it, you can spend it on your election campaign. But this system has an unequal weight on voters and candidates depending on their economic situation. To ensure that our elections are not financed by a wealthy elite but by all people, judicial intervention is now necessary to address this new wealth barrier to our democracy. Just as thirty years ago, courts can help change our campaign finance system so that it distributes influence regardless of wealth. This could be done through a voluntary public funding system, where participating candidates receive equal and total amounts of public funding.
Candidates who choose not to participate would still be able to spend unlimited amounts on their campaigns, but they would face a real disincentive to opt for private money while their opponents receive public funding. We can be guided by the Supreme Court's judgment in Terry v. Adams and Virginia State Board of Elections v. Virginia State Board of Elections when considering how best to distribute influence in our campaign finance system. By doing so, we can ensure that our elections are truly public and that all citizens have an equal opportunity to participate.