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Video: A Musical History of Campaign Finance

Money is Speech

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Here's our latest explainer video, on the storied history of money in politics. Lyrics follow.

Act I: Brown Paper Bags

"I made my mistakes, but in all my years of public life, I have never profited [from public service]. I've earned every cent." (Richard Nixon)

"Money is speech." (Jeff Greenfield) "The more speech the better." (Antonin Scalia) "Money is speech." (Jeff Greenfield) "I've earned every cent." (Richard Nixon) "Money is speech." (Jeff Greenfield) "The more speech the better." (Antonin Scalia) "I don't like all the influence of money in politics." (Mitt Romney)

When people think of Watergate they think of a break-in But they don't mention the money that Nixon was taking From wealthy donors to help him get reelected Nixon paid them back in favors just like they expected

To battle corruption Congress passed a new law Capping contributions to a candidate's haul The source of the donations had to be disclosed too And the FEC was formed to enforce the new rules

Some who felt the law went against the Constitution sued Saying limits on money limited free speech too So the courts kept the cap on how much you can donate But said spending was unlimited by an outside group or candidate

That meant no more spending limits to promote a cause Or to point out a rival campaign's flaws So while candidates once snuck around with brown paper bags From then on they raised money publicly or left it to PACs

"Money is speech." (Jeff Greenfield) "The more speech the better." (Antonin Scalia) "Money is speech." (Jeff Greenfield) "I've earned every cent." (Richard Nixon) "Money is speech." (Jeff Greenfield) "The more speech the better." (Antonin Scalia) "I don't like all the influence of money in politics." (Mitt Romney)

Act II: Soft Money

"We should also curb the role of big money in elections by capping the cost of campaigns2026" (Bill Clinton)

In the 80s and 90s, there was a new gimmick: "Soft money" that's disclosed but had no limits It's supposed to cover each party's expenses But guys like Clinton used it to help their election chances

There was just one problem, Clinton's party was broke So he asked for more money every time he spoke And in return for the 100 million dollar cash-in He let donors use the Lincoln Bedroom to crash in

Then the "scandal and reform" cycle happened again And legislation was proposed by Feingold and McCain It capped donations to parties, ending soft funds And banned corporate/union issue ads right before elections

But with each new reform comes new loopholes Tax exempt "527s" arose Because they weren't explicit about whom they supported Many still raised money without limits to thwart them

"Money is speech." (Jeff Greenfield) "The more speech the better." (Antonin Scalia) "Money is speech." (Jeff Greenfield) "I've earned every cent." (Richard Nixon) "Money is speech." (Jeff Greenfield) "The more speech the better." (Antonin Scalia) "The rules are what they are2026" (Jay Carney)

Act III: Super PACs and Non-Profits

"I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests." (Barack Obama)

But the most outside money was yet to be spent Some argued spending limits broke the first amendment "Corporations and unions are entitled to free speech" They took it to court, the Supreme Court agreed.

Super PACs can raise as much money as they want They can also use union and corporate funds The only rule is they cannot coordinate With a specific party or a specific candidate

But reform opponents weren't quite done yet They found new uses for 501(c)(4) non-profits Which are a lot like Super PACs with more mystery They haven't had to disclose donors ever in history

Whether Republican or Democrat you might believe That spending limits jeopardize our freedom of speech But with each new cycle of deregulation More money is being injected into our elections

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