Do Campaign Contributions Influence Votes?

Do Campaign Contributions Influence Votes?

There was an article in the North Augusta paper just after the party primaries, about campaign contributions. The issue is not easily summarized, but it was about automobile dealerships having lost a recent court case; the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that charging “closing fees” when selling an automobile (the case involved a fee of $299) violated current state law unless the exact computation of that fee was spelled out by the dealership. If you consider all the cars sold in the state, those fees quickly add up to a large sum. Having lost in court, the only way auto dealers could continue to charge those fees legally would be if the state law were changed. The court decision was in November, 2015. By the time the legislative session began in January, bills had been filed in both the state House and Senate to change the law and allow those fees. Reportedly, some 227 thousand dollars in campaign donations were made by automobile dealerships in 2016 (so far), mostly to incumbents; Edgefield’s Senator Shane Massey, as the new Senate Majority Leader, received $26,800, the third highest amount in the state. The Senate bill never left committee, but the House bill passed both bodies after being amended somewhat, and was signed into law on June 3rd as this year’s session ended.

The implication of the article, and a mere recitation of the facts, leaves one with the impression that there is a cause-and-effect relationship here: those who can afford it make large campaign contributions, and legislation then happens. I for one am not at all convinced that’s the case, but the system clearly smells that way. I’ve contacted Sen. Massey, whom I hold in high regard; he assured me (and I believe him) that the bill as finally passed had input not only from the auto dealerships but also from the trial lawyers on the other side of the issue, and pointed out that the final legislation passed unanimously with all legislators, both parties, voting in favor.

As the system presently stands, legislators need campaign contributions. It costs quite a bit to mount a campaign, to publish newsletters and run websites to keep constituents informed, to place and remove signs, to hold meetings not only during campaign season but throughout the legislative cycle. Legislative salaries are far from sufficient to pay for those things, and without campaign contributions only the independently wealthy could run successfully for office.

Nevertheless, the system smells bad. Like most issues involving politics, there is no simple answer – but like so many issues, we need an answer better than the one we have now. It is easy to impugn the reputation of just about any successful politician based on contributions they have received (whether solicited or not) and votes they then cast, entirely too easy. Only the wealthy can afford large contributions; most people can’t. The right answer cannot be let’s just leave it the way it is. Those whom we have elected need to find a way to conduct their business in a better fashion than this, which will not be an easy task.

It smells too bad to let it just sit there, festering.

Robert Scott