As much as I want to make this a partisan issue of Republicans being the bad guys, I can’t. The true problem lies in the system and a corrupt structure that allows for the supremacy of money.
Unsurprisingly, capital, specifically big business, has gained too much power and influence in government. Lately, I have become very cynical about American politics precisely because it is turning into an extension of the corporate world. In 2011, about $2.5 billion was spent on over 12,000 lobbyists in Washington , with special interest groups and companies like the US Chamber of Congress and GE spending $46 million and $21 million respectively . Considering that the average member of Congress makes about $173,000 per year, a company spending millions of dollars lobbying is sure to gain some influence.
We have seen many questionable decisions from Congress that were made after intense lobbying. My favorite among these is a bill that reclassifies pizza as a vegetable in schools. The decision says that the tomato paste on pizza counts as a serving of tomato, even though it is only 31% tomato sauce. Con Agra and Del Monte, two of the primary lobbyists behind the bill, look to profit the most from this change.
Money is also a significant problem with political campaigns and funding from Political Action Committees or PACs. A PAC’s main goal is to elect a candidate or have legislation passed, and they are free to spend as much money as possible to achieve their goal. This was not always the case as the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002 specifically prevented corporations, unions, and nonprofits from directly financing a campaign or paying for TV ads. Law limited the amount of money that a corporation could give to a campaign, and PACs could not spend any money on political advertisements within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. Unfortunately, the Citizens United case of 2010 eliminated a number of spending restrictions on companies and opened the floodgates to corporate financed elections.
The power and effect of PACs is obvious in the 2012 presidential race. There has never been a time in American history when money has held so much power in our political process. As of Jan 1st, “Restore Our Future,” a super PAC that favors Mitt Romney, spent approximately $2,750,000 preparing for the Iowa caucus compared to the $1,282,000 that the Romney campaign spent . The PAC spent more than twice as much as Romney, and ads financed by these PACs are widely attributed for the downfall of Newt Gingrich.
The reason why these campaign ads were so effective was because of the second part of the Citizens United decision, which ended the restriction on PAC spending for advertisements within 30 days of a primary. Money is nothing new to politics, but previously the law limited the effect that money could have on an election. Without some restrictions, American campaigns turn into a battle for the highest bidder.
In the first seven days of 2012, approximately $23 million has been spent on political campaigning. A staggering $21 million of this was spent by PACs and other special interests, excluding party committees . This proportion is disturbingly high, especially when compared to the numbers from 2008 and 2006 (before Citizens United) when approximately half of all spending came from groups other than campaigns.
Noam Chomsky, a professor at MIT, made a poignant statement about the 2008 election and President Obama. He said that President Obama received a large portion of his campaign contributions from financial institutions because “they thought [Obama] would serve them better. And it’s turning out that it’s probably true” . Financial institutions are now doing “marvelously” according to Chomsky because of policies that Obama passed and regulation that he failed to pass. There is undoubtedly a direct relationship between campaign funding and proposed legislation.
I realize that my concerns are not new, but the amount of money already being injected into the Republican race is unsettling; donors are ensuring favorable laws for themselves and a direct link to America’s future leaders. Some people, however, think that corporations should have a larger role in American life. My response is that democracy is ruled by the people and for the people. A corporation does not eat, sleep, breath, or have a heartbeat like a regular person. Money is gaining too much influence in politics, and we need to combat this intrusion. We cannot let our country be bought out.
Note: All statistics for campaign spending have increased since this article was posted.
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