Who do our elected officials in Congress represent? Who do they serve? Here lies a significant disconnection. There is but a weak link between the will of the common voter and the workings of elected officials in Congress. A huge snag in the democratic system comes to the fore—MONEY.
This is not to say that cash stuffed into the pocket of an elected official magically transforms into the wishes of the donor, but it does some things that can definitely abide law making. It gives the “moneyed” person or special interest group greater access to the politician and sure as hell greases the legislative wheel. The ability to massively infuse money into political elections has generated an unforeseen quality of corruption in our democracy.
Lobbyists working for a myriad of special interest groups who have ample financial resources enter the loop and act as pistons of influence. Dark money from deep pockets hard to imagine by the common working individual demand its due from the “elected” elite.
A recent study by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University illustrated the disparity between what we, the people, wish to happen in the public domain and what our elected representatives create. The opinions of the bottom 90% of income earners in America has essentially no impact at all. Unless you’re an economic elite your voice is muted in the halls of power.
If you’re in the lower 90% group of income earners your influence on public policy is basically zero. That’s zilch, nada, null, goose egg influence.
The study examined more than 20 years of data to determine if the government actually represented the people. The conclusion was a disheartening no. If you’re in the lower 90% group of income earners your influence on public policy is basically zero. That’s zilch, nada, null, goose egg influence.
What the majority wants enacted in the form of policies and what the Congress acts upon is essentially disconnected. However, if you’re one of the economic elite, that is in the upper 10% of income earners, you can have a major effect on public policies. Money’s got a big voice. The economic upper crust, business interests, and others who can afford lobbyists shuffle around the halls of power and wave their flags of influence with ease.
Examples of Money Influence
Bernie Sanders’ questioning of Betsy DeVos during her confirmation hearing for education secretary highlighted to some extent the increasing awareness of money’s power in our government. He noted to Ms. DeVos: “…there is a growing fear, I think, in this country that we are moving toward what some would call an oligarchic form of society, where a small number of very, very wealthy billionaires control, to a significant degree, our economic and political life. Would you be so kind as to tell us how much your family has contributed to the Republican Party over the years?”
In the ensuing dialogue with DeVos it was concluded that the family had possibly contributed around $200 million to the Republican Party. In response, Sanders asked in a pointed manner if DeVos believed she’d be sitting as a nominee for education secretary if she was not a billionaire and had not contributed millions of dollars. DeVos assuredly replied that she believed she would because she’d worked hard for parents and children for the last 30 years.
DeVos’s response gives us reason to pause and ask ourselves how many people we know who have worked hard for parents and children over many decades. Personally, I know of many but not one has been nominated for education secretary based on that criterion alone.
Another major example of money power, which is out there in the open for no one to see, is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It’s a unique organization that “corporate lobbyists and state legislators vote as equals on ‘model bills’ to change our rights that often benefit the corporations’ bottom line at public expense.” The overwhelming majority of legislators who participate in ALEC are Republicans though the organization espouses bilateral participation.
Now, let’s pause and make sure we get the picture. Corporate lobbyists create model bills advantageous to their respective business group and the elected legislator advances it through the legislative process. Why? Because money mixed with special interests and ideology is a potent force.
There are many other examples of money’s influence, but one most salient in light of the latest mass shooting of innocent school children in Parkland, Florida, is reflected by the disconnect between the American Public and elected officials in Congress over gun regulations. Most Americans — regardless of party — favor tightening restrictions on firearms, according to a recent NPR/Ipsos poll. About 8 out of 10 Americans support some degree of gun legislation. However, the booming response of elected officials to the desires of the American Public has been gross inaction.
The generalizing effects of dark money, that infusion of enormous amounts of cash to non-profit organizations that can receive unlimited donations from corporations, individuals, and unions, and spend funds to influence elections, but are not required to disclose their donors are at rampant play. The money spigots are full and flowing and poisoning our democracy.
A Major Point
The democratic process in which the government, duly representing the majority of the people through elections, is more illusion than reality. What actually happens? Ideologues of every bent with vast amounts of money recruit like-minded ideologues with political aspirations to run for office. An effusion of financial support transformed into campaign ads that are usually of an attack nature and provide little opportunity for rational public discourse is discharged to the candidate of interest.
Organizational support may be proffered the willing candidate in the form of polling services, direct mailing and political consulting. If the aspiring candidates are elected, lobbyists and others representing the moneyed special interest groups converge upon the offices of the elected officials and solicit favors and shape the legislative agenda. The flow of money engenders reciprocity and what might be considered pacts with the devil. J
ane Mayer who authored the national best seller, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the History of the Radical Right concluded that until the issue of money is fixed in American politics nothing else will likely be fixed because money affects every issue.
In 1905, Theodore Roosevelt, proposing public financing of federal elections asserted: "All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law.” In a metaphorical sense, one may be permitted to ask: “Teddy, where are you?”