What's Wrong with Money in Politics?
by Eric Armstrong
Money, of course, buys advertising. And advertising buys votes. To get votes, you have to be perceived as a "winner", to keep people from voting for someone else they may like just a little better. So politicians have to spend like crazy to create and maintain that perception.
Of course, all of the advertising and political sound bites amount to so many "puff pieces". It's all about sounding good. Like Arnold Schwarznegger in the California governor's recall election, it's all about "being for the little guy" and "against big government", and never, ever saying anything substantive on the issues--because the minute you open your mouth, 50% of the people will disagree with you. If you can keep it shut and look good, you win.
But the fact that money turns political campaigns into a game of shadows, charades, and posturing is the minor side of the issue. The real problem with money in the political system is that corporations have acquired the right to be considered "individuals" under the law, which somehow gives them the "right of free speech". And they have used that privilege to dominate the election process.
There are currently some 10,000 lobbyists in Washington, and 90,000 in the country as a whole. If you assume they are making $100k a year, on average, that is $9 billion that special interests are spending, every year. And they are getting their money's worth! They write virtually all of the legislation that Congress votes on. Here are just a few of the results:
These problems all stem from the fact that corporate money controls the American political system. Corporations are interested in profit. There's nothing wrong with that, per se. But the goal of maximizing profit is frequently at odds with (if not entirely inconsistent with) humanity's best interests. Goverment needs to act as the brake and the steering wheel on that process so it stays under control. But that can't happen when corporations are running government to their liking.
Of course, most campaign contributions go to incumbents, who don't need it. They, in turn, gain stature by turning it over to the party, so it can be used to fund races that are in doubt. But when a race is doubt, you'll find the same corporations backing both sides.
With corporations spending billions in return for earmarked funds and legislative payoffs that put billions back in their pockets, they can afford to back many a candidate who is favorable to their positions. That's what they're doing now. In other words, corporate financing is the major reason that so much money is spent on campaigns.
Since money determines the outcome, both parties have to pander to the providers. That's why Democratic legislatures have been just as responsible for corporate welfare packages as Republican legislatures (up until the 2000-2008 Republican legislature, which shattered all existing records).
Funding one side of the election raises the stakes for the other side. So they have to seek equal funding. It's astonishing, but many corporations fund both sides of any race that's in doubt. On the one hand, they want a friend, whoever wins. On the other, anyone they don't fund is bound to lose. So all the candidates wind up feeding at the same trough. In the end, it doesn't really matter which candidate wins--corporate doners control the game. With one candidate, they may make progress more slowly, but they are always moving in the direction they choose.
You can only vote for one candidate. But you can spend money on as many as you want. Corporations have deep pockets, and they are free to do just that. They are vastly outspending the American populace, and the populace is being harmed as a result. That is the singlular tragedy of American politics: When money controls the process, the winner is always money.
So what can you do? In the first place, do not pay attention to any poltical ad on radio or TV, ever. Participate in all-out boycott. In the second place, support the creation of social networking system that distribute voting advice efficiently, so that word-of-mouth is the only kind of advertising needed to get a candidate elected.
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