His Holiness Pope Francis called upon candidates in his home nation of Argentina to hold a “free, unfinanced campaign” during a question and answer session with low-income youth from Buenos Aires. The Pope also warned that campaign donations lead elected officials to act against the interests of the people. “In the financing of electoral campaigns, many interests get into the mix,” according to Francis, “and then they send you the bill.”
The Pope’s comments place him at odds with five other very prominent Catholics — the five justices who joined the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC. That opinion did not simply deny that huge influxes of money can corrupt elected officials, at least when that money goes to allegedly independent groups such as super PACs; it even suggested that the use of money to obtain greater access to politicians is an objective moral good:
Favoritism and influence are not . . . avoidable in representative politics. It is in the nature of an elected representative to favor certain policies, and, by necessary corollary, to favor the voters and contributors who support those policies. It is well understood that a substantial and legitimate reason, if not the only reason, to cast a vote for, or to make a contribution to, one candidate over another is that the candidate will respond by producing those political outcomes the supporter favors. Democracy is premised on responsiveness.The Pope also suggested that he would support a public financing system, noting that such a method of funding elections “would allow for me, the citizen, to know that I’m financing each candidate with a given amount of money.” The same five conservative justices who decided Citizens United, however, have also made public financing virtually impossible to implement successfully in the United States.
In Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett, the Court struck down a public financing system which provides extra funds to publicly financed candidates who become the target of large amounts of campaign spending. Without such a mechanism, which allows publicly financed candidates to defend against unexpected and well-financed attacks from super PACs and the like, candidates will be extraordinarily reluctant to participate in public finance systems, which typically forbid candidates who participate in them from spending money that they raise outside of the system.