The 2016 presidential election will be defined by big money more than any other in recent history. Candidates are trying to line up billionaire mega-donors, and independent political groups, which are allowed to accept unlimited donations, are ready to shell out big bucks. In addition, some candidates, like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, are exploiting a loophole in campaign finance rules — delaying official entry into the race to raise vast sums for a super PAC that’s supposed to be entirely independent of his all-but-certain campaign.
But that doesn’t mean Americans approve.
The vast majority in the U.S. — 84% — believe money has too much influence in political campaigns, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll released Tuesday. The feeling cuts across party lines, with 80% of Republicans, 90% of Democrats and 84% of independents believing campaign cash plays too big a role.
And the general consensus is the current political campaign funding system needs a complete makeover. While only 13% said only minor changes were needed, 39% want to see fundamental changes and 46% want it to be completely rebuilt.
Super PACS, which sprang to life in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, can accept unlimited donations from wealthy individuals and from corporations. And under the current system, groups unaffiliated with a candidate can spend unlimited amounts of money on advertisements to promote that candidate. But according to the poll, 78% of Americans said such ad spending should be limited by the law while just 19% said it should remain the same.
Specifically, Americans want more transparency — 75% said groups not affiliated with a candidate that gives money during political campaigns should be required to publicly disclose their contributors while just 22% said such information should remain private.
Just who benefits the most under the current system? Sixty-six percent believe wealthy Americans have more opportunity to influence the elections, versus 31% who think all Americans have an equal chance. However, there was a bit of a partisan divide, with 55% of Republicans believing the wealthy have more influence as compared to 73% of Democrats, according to the poll.
Pre-Citizens United, candidates had to follow very strict campaign finance rules and accept very limited contributions from donors capable of giving much more. The system punished poor performers, forcing out candidates who compete. But now, a single billionaire can create a candidate-specific super PAC as Sheldon Adelson did for Newt Gingrich or Foster Freiss did for Rick Santorum in 2012 — keeping such candidacies alive longer than they would have under old rules. In this election cycle, Rubio has already bagged support of Florida billionaire Norman Braman while Ken Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot, has lined up behind New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
But just because the vast majority of Americans want to see changes in the campaign finance system doesn’t mean it will happen, at least in the short term. Rick Hasen, a campaign finance regulation expert and professor of law and political science at UC-Irvine School of Law, told msnbc, “You’re not going to get a change before the next election cycle. Any changes to the rules before an election become complicated by its effects on the upcoming election.”
Hasen also noted that there is a difference between Republican voters who want change — and GOP elites, like lawmakers, who don’t. “One of the greatest opponents is Sen. Mitch McConnell. Nothing is going to get out of the Senate that he doesn’t want," Hasen said.
While Americans feel strongly about getting big money out of politics, it’s not an issue they prioritize. The poll found the economy and jobs are voters' top concerns, followed by healthcare and immigration. Less than 1% said campaign fundraising is the most important issue the U.S. faces.
The poll surveyed a random sample of 1,022 adults across the country and has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.