Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Money in Politics

Are you passionate about protecting, repealing, reforming X, Y, Z? Good for you. Congress doesn’t care.

A recent study found that little of what's done by the U.S. congress has any correlation whatsoever to the issues and outcomes about which American voters care. What matters to congress is not the opinion of Republicans, or Democrats, or the Tea Party, or the Occupy Movement, or any other average citizen or interest group, but rather the opinion of people and groups with big money.

The study in “Perspectives on Politics” (Sep 2014) by professors Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page of Princeton and Northwestern, respectively analyzed 20 years of data and concluded that “economic elites” and business interests have “substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” while average citizens and interest groups have “little or no independent influence.”

I think most of us knew this in our gut and we didn’t need a research study, or even Donald Trump boasting about it, to know the system is corrupt. During 2015‘s first Republican debate Trump said he gave to everybody, and gesturing to the other nine people on the stage with him said, “When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them...they are there for me.” Then he added, “that’s a broken system.” Donald Trump says some crazy stuff, but he’s right about this -- the system is broken.

People, corporations, PACs, super PACs, and the in-name-only “social welfare” organizations, and their lobbyists untethered by recent U.S. Supreme Court  decisions have poured literally billions into influencing our government. They’ve earned an estimated return in terms of tax breaks and subsidies of 750 times their investment. Nice work if you can get it. And people like Charles and David Koch, and George Soros, and Sheldon Adelson, and Michael Bloomberg, and others like Donald Trump, can and do get it.

Lawrence Lessig, who is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School, and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, has written extensively and eloquently on the corrupting influence of unlimited money on American government. Big money has a disproportionate influence on who runs for office, who gets elected, and what gets done or doesn’t get done.

But corruption of the democratic process isn’t the only thing that’s happening. In the unending quest to raise money, the two political parties and their surrogates have resorted to the outreach theme that works best -- fear and anger. Everything has become a “war;” a “war on women,” a “war on coal,” a “war on religion.” The effect on our discourse and culture has been corrosive, creating a hyper-partisan divide that fuels incivility, distrust, and confrontation.

We must get money out of politics not just to save the Republic from its corrupting influence on democracy, but also from its corrosive impact on our American culture. Join one of the many grassroots efforts to take our Republic back. A good one here in our state is, which has fielded an effort promoting a constitutional amendment, I-735, that would eliminate the disproportionate influence of concentrated money and political power on elections and governmental policy.

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