On April 15, a 61-year-old Florida mailman, Doug Hughes, took Washington, D.C., and national media by storm when he landed his own personal gyrocopter on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building.
This solo flight was not an act of terror, or a theatrical demonstration for pure spectacle and attention; it was an attempt to deliver 535 letters one for each member of the 114th Congress, advocating for significant campaign finance reform.
Hughes was immediately taken into custody upon landing his gyrocopter at the Capitol and is currently under house arrest, and facing up to four years in prison for violating a no-fly zone.
When asked if he thought of himself as a patriot or a hero, Hughes simply replied, “No, I’m a mailman.”
This story was never about Doug Hughes, the 61-year-old mailman who went on the flight of his life, but of the larger issue at hand, the utterly broken state of campaign finance laws and regulations.
Money and politics are two peas unfortunately in the same pod. Never in American political history has it been more important to the success or failure of a campaign to have a sizeable warchest and an army of respectable, influential donors.
Never in American political history have these donations and contributions been so closely and inexorably tied to the policy these candidates advocate and pursue once elected into office.
Moreover, in the wake of the hotly contested Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision of 2010, never have the floodgates for largely unchecked and for all intents and purposes unlimited campaign contributions been so wide open.
The Citizens United case essentially rolled back the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which instated restrictions on the growing epidemic of unchecked “soft money” contributions. “Soft money” refers to any and all raised or spent funds in political campaigns, most commonly through political parties or third-party interest groups, that is not expressly regulated through the Federal Election Commission.
With these restrictions now prohibited, interest groups such as for-profit corporations or labor unions have essentially an eternally blank check to any candidate or political party of their choosing.
This has led to record-breaking campaign contributions in recent elections by third-party interest groups, such as the conservative National Rifle Association, and the progressive political action committee ActBlue and individual donors like Charles and David Koch and Thomas Steyer.
The Koch brothers, the most prominent campaign donors for the Republican Party, have recently promised a nearly $1 billion commitment in the upcoming 2016 election cycle.
This outrageous amount of money thrown at political candidates and actors has an indelible effect on the legislative process. As a result, our representatives will not so readily advocate for otherwise popular policies, such as eliminating workplace discrimination based on gender or increasing the minimum wage out of fear that their immense reservoir of contributions will quickly and irrevocably dry up.
In more extreme cases, members of Congress will emphatically deny outright consensus in favor of shoring up approval from their laundry list of donors.
In a time when Congressional approval is at an all-time low and cynicism is at an all-time high, the lack of truly effective and serious campaign finance reform legislation in the wake of the controversial Citizens United decision could not be more tragically fitting.
Everyday folks like Doug Hughes understand the demonstrably negative impact of allowing essentially limitless money in the political, yet it seems this sentiment is missed by even the most reasonable and well-intentioned members of Congress.
This a dangerous, potentially damaging wrong that absolutely must be made right. If the last five years are any proof, it is that unrestrained campaign contributions allow the most radical, obstructive, and ludicrous candidates to win legitimately influential and important seats in the highest offices.
If we, the people, want to restore dignity, integrity, and legitimacy to the political process and to a hilariously, unacceptably dysfunctional Congress, then that effort begins and ends with seriously addressing campaign finance.
If one man and a gyrocopter can fight this battle, so can we.