I don’t recall which American humorist first delivered the line, “I’m not a member of an organized political party; I’m a Democrat” but for many years, “disorganized” was one of the kinder descriptions of the Democratic party.
Contemporary Democrats remain ideologically diverse, but these days, the divisions are far deeper in the Republican party, where extremists elected to Congress from some 80 deep-red (often gerrymandered) districts are far, far to the Right of most Republican voters.
Just how much does this fringe depart from the policy preferences of the Republican rank-and-file? If we are talking about issues of campaign finance reform, a recent poll strongly suggests the answer is “pretty far.”
Americans of both parties fundamentally reject the regime of untrammeled money in elections made possible by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and other court decisions and now favor a sweeping overhaul of how political campaigns are financed, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.
The findings reveal deep support among Republicans and Democrats alike for new measures to restrict the influence of wealthy givers, including limiting the amount of money that can be spent by “super PACs” and forcing more public disclosure on organizations now permitted to intervene in elections without disclosing the names of their donors.
And by a significant margin, they reject the argument that underpins close to four decades of Supreme Court jurisprudence on campaign finance: that political money is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. Even self-identified Republicans are evenly split on the question.
The poll confirms that most Americans–Republican and Democrat alike–reject the Court’s sunny conclusion that money does not corrupt the process or allow the wealthy to “buy” policies favorable to their interests.
The broader public appears to see things differently: More than four in five Americans say money plays too great a role in political campaigns, the poll found, while two-thirds say that the wealthy have more of a chance to influence the elections process than other Americans.
Those concerns — and the divide between Washington elites and the rest of the country — extend to Republicans.
Three-quarters of self-identified Republicans support requiring more disclosure by outside spending organizations, for example, but Republican leaders in Congress have blocked legislation to require more disclosure by political nonprofit groups, which do not reveal the names of their donors.
Republicans in the poll were almost as likely as Democrats to favor further restrictions on campaign donations, even as some prominent Republicans call for legislation to eliminate existing caps on contributions.
Perhaps if the more extreme partisans sent to Washington from safe, deep-red districts had to answer to more moderate–and more representative–Republican voters, their legislative behavior would be different.
Perhaps if a couple of the eminent scholars on the Court had ever run for or held political office, their lofty abstractions might be tempered with, and informed by, real-world experience.
And perhaps, if pigs could fly…..