With the Austin municipal elections rapidly approaching, the first to come since the 10-1 Plan converted the at-large City Council districts into district subdivisions, a gaggle of candidates has gathered seeking to throw their hat into the political arena. Nearly 70 men and women are now getting involved in politics at the local level, indubitably a very good thing.
But an unfortunately high number of these candidates are independently wealthy and can thus simply self-finance their own election. In the case of District 10 candidate Robert Thomas, he seems to be trying to do just that by cutting himself a check for $100,000. Candidates willing to put their money where their mouth is are not necessarily a bad thing, but when done in conjunction with little outside support, problems obviously arise.
The city of Austin currently posts an individual contribution limit of $350 for those seeking to donate to candidates. Ostensibly, this is done to get the money out of politics and open up the process to the masses, but the opposite effect has ended up occurring. Since the Supreme Court first held in Buckley v. Valeo in 1976 that limits on self-financing are unconstitutional, candidates have always been free to write themselves checks.
When the process for soliciting contributions from members of the general public is so onerous, as it is in Austin, self-financing simply becomes the easier and more expedient option for those candidates able to do so.
Campaign finance reform is a liberal pipe dream that, to be blunt, is dead. The Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. F.E.C. put campaign finance reform on life support, but McCutcheon v. F.E.C. pulled the plug. With corporate super PACs now free to spend nearly unlimited amounts in federal elections, local restrictions only stand in the way. The individual contribution limits need to be nixed, ironically, to ensure the wealthy end their stranglehold on Austin politics.