AUSTIN, Texas — A small group of campaign super-donors agreed that the campaign finance system in the U.S. needs reform, but said in the meantime, they are following the rules of the current system and using their donations to fund campaigns that advance causes they support.
This was the message delivered by a panel moderated by Dave Levinthal, senior reporter at the Center for Public Integrity, at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin on Saturday. (Listen to the full discussion here.)
“I agree that Citizens United is a flawed decision, I don’t think I would go so far as to call it bribery because I don’t think that’s what it is,” said Austin-based philanthropist Aimee Boone Cunningham.
The 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision “changed the rules of the game for how money may flow into elections,” Levinthal said. It paved the way for the creation of super PACs and politically active nonprofits.
“The way I see it, my challenge as a donor is to find the candidates and the organizations that are doing work on the issues that I care about and then to lift them up," Cunningham said. She gives to candidates that she feels empower women. The big-dollar donor, who helps fund groups that advocate for abortion rights, supports Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and backed Wendy Davis’ campaign for Texas governor.
But even the most generous donations cannot guarantee that a candidate will be elected to office.
Doug Deason, president of Deason Capital Services, said the impact of these funds is limited. He noted that the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is close despite Clinton’s substantially larger fundraising totals.
“Essentially, [Trump] is tied in the national polls and leading some of the swing states and he hasn’t spent that money. That’s pretty impressive. I think that shows how little impact money really has on political races,” Deason said.
According to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of campaign filings, Trump has so far raised $189 million through his campaign and super PACs compared to Clinton’s $530 million.