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 [1], with special interest groups and companies like the US Chamber of Congress and GE spending $46 million and $21 million respectively [2]. 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 [3]. 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 [4]. 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” [5]. 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.

 

[1] http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/incdec.php
[2] http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/top.php?indexType=s
[3] http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jan/01/nation/la-na-money-election-20120101
[4] http://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/
[5] http://fora.tv/2009/10/06/Noam_Chomsky_Philosophies_of_Language_and_Politics#Noam_Chomsky_Says_Big_Business_Dictates_the_Presidency

 

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3 Responses to Buying the American Government

  1. Calmoderate says:

    When people say they have become cynical about the effects of money on politics, it is both unnecessary and undermines their argument. Its unnecessary because arguing that special interest money corrupts politics is a defensible statement of fact based on reality. There’s nothing cynical about that because there’s plenty of evidence it is true. Although unpleasant, the fact that money buys congress just has to be faced. Ways to fight it need to be articulated and made into policy. Of course, that may be very hard to do in reality, but its what has to be done if anything is ever going to change.

    Labeling ones’ self as a cynic allows people who like and profit from the corrupt status quo to simply dismiss the criticism as unfounded nonsense from cynics. IMHO, your position deserves much more credit than that.

  2. Ben Barnett says:

    This story does well to highlight the massive amounts of money that pours into political campaigns. What you said about PACs and special interest lobbyists (I liked the pizza example) really shows the role money plays in politics. I just wanted to take some time to offer a potential solution to this problem of campaign spending that you might be interested in writing about:

    Inspired by the realists who are discussing the dangers of the current campaign finance system, Votes for Charity, Inc. is a revolutionary new not-for-profit organization that will help redirect wasteful campaign spending toward top-rated U.S. charities. Following on Stephen Colbert’s brilliant Super PAC reporting, we hope to create a media firestorm that will force a legal battle about our “charitable, democratic protest”.

    Votes For Charity has the potential to charitably raise the collective consciousness of this country, and demonstrate exactly how outrageous a system we have, by A) providing a mechanism that dramatically alters the way political parties can engage and recruit disillusioned and undecided voters, and B) giving the disillusioned voters a platform from which to voice their general distrust of both parties, while attempting to support highly rated, non-partisan, domestic causes.

    In order to earn the votes of our “Volunteer Voters”, politically motivated donors from each party will demonstrate their commitment to important causes by attempting to out-give each other in VFC’s “Giving Contest”.

    In return, our entire block of “Volunteer Voters” has pledged their votes to whichever party donates the most to our 80 highly-rated, non-partisan, domestic charities. These Volunteer Voters are people like you and me, who agree that the current system is a corporatocracy that renders each of us unable to differentiate between the major corporate spokespersons (aka, the candidates). To force the system to change, these Volunteer Voters have taken a drastic measure. They have decided that instead of choosing the lesser of two evils, they will use their votes to do something charitable and revolutionary.

    Please check out http://www.VotesForCharity.org, and watch our introduction video at YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJ0Cl9EHsts&feature=relmfu

    I think you’ll be fascinated.

    Sincerely,

    Ben Barnett
    Founder and President , Votes for Charity, Inc.
    Website: http://www.VotesForCharity.org Email: ben@votesforcharity.org Phone: 267-625-8407
    YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y88QoLlHW0g&feature=g-all-pls
    Twitter: @VotesForCharity

  3. Hmm? says:

    This is a big issue. Mitt also has received a shitton of money from financial institutions(they are some of his largest contributors) which on one hand makes since, considering his resume, on the other it isnt highly publicized and given the climate of the average America I think most would be outraged if they found this out. For more click Here.

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