Monday, October 12, 2015

The Best Congress Money Can Buy

Over the weekend, the New York Times published a very important investigative piece, entitled "The Families Funding the 2016 Presidential Election.  You can read it here, and I sincerely hope you will, but be warned:  it's somewhat depressing.

In the article, the authors note that a small number of super-rich men (and they are overwhelmingly men, as well as overwhelmingly white, and overwhelmingly from the older demographics) have provided the vast majority of the political donations up to this point:   "Just 158 families, along with companies they own or control, contributed $176 million in the first phase of the campaign...Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign, most of it through channels legalized by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision five years ago." Of these super-rich donors, 138 have given their support entirely to Republicans, who have promised to cut their taxes, cut back on regulations they dislike, and scale back so-called "entitlement programs" that benefit the poor and working class.

I know what some of you are thinking-- if these donors gave their money to Democrats, Donna would be fine with it.  But you'd be wrong.  I would be every bit as upset, although for different reasons.  Whether I like the policies of Democrats better than those of Republicans, the fact remains that allowing a small number of super-wealthy men (or women, for that matter) to control our politics is not good for democracy, no matter which side they happen to support.  Call me old-fashioned, but when I vote, I want to feel my vote means something.  If billionaires can use their wealth to get congress to favor policies that only benefit them and their business interests, how can I or anyone who works for a living hope to compete?  What can I give my member of congress that will make him or her listen to me?  On the salary I make as a professor, there's no way I can donate a large amount of money in exchange for access.  So I don't get that access.  But those 158 billionaires certainly do, and it's all because they can throw several million at a candidate's campaign and not think twice about it.

Something is wrong with that picture.  And something is even wronger when the New York Times report led to ... radio (and TV) silence.  As Charlie Pierce of pointed out, not one of the Sunday talk shows on television even addressed the report; nor have any of the major networks discussed it since.  Perhaps that's not surprising, given that some of these wealthy donors own companies that are also huge advertisers, and some may even sit on boards of the corporate media giants.  But still, you'd think it would at least merit a brief discussion of the excessive role money is playing in our politics.  Sadly, it has not. I wonder if it will.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders is drawing large crowds and evoking cheers when he talks about how problematic it is for billionaires to have so much influence.  I am sure some people who dislike Bernie believe he is anti-business (he has said he does not think of himself as a capitalist), but doesn't he have a point?  Democracy cannot survive if only the big-money donors are able to get whatever they want, while the rest of us are relegated to the sidelines, bemoaning how corrupt and how inept our congress has become.  And this should not be a partisan issue:  neither working-class Republicans nor working-class Democrats benefit from a system that only rewards the wealthy among us.  I'm one of many who believe the Citizens United decision only made matters worse.  If you're interested in helping to overturn it, here is where you can find some like-minded people:

One of my favorite Rush songs is "The Big Money," and some of Neil Peart's lyrics couldn't be more appropriate:  "Big money got a heavy hand/ Big money take control/ Big money got a mean streak/ Big money got no soul..."  I keep expecting people to realize they are in fact being manipulated by politicians who are distracting them with claims that immigrants or Planned Parenthood or lazy poor people are causing the problems.  No, not really.  Once again, it's the big money.  And although many voters seem resigned to the situation, I still hope that in the near future, the voting public will finally see what the game is, and demand some changes.  But until they do, we're all dancing to the tune of 158 super-rich people.  And that doesn't sound like democracy to me.


  1. Unfortunately, "the best Congress money can buy" is clearly not a good Congress at all. What we need is the best Congress citizens can elect. A big part of making that a reality is to overturn CU, fix the atrocious gutting of the VRA, stop disenfranchising citizens, and put an end to gerrymandering. These changes will finally put the power of the voting process back in the hands of the voters and out of the hands of Big Money.

  2. Thanks for the link Donna. I have been speaking out against the Citizens United ruling since it was handed down. I've also been dismayed and depressed over the inappropriate and disproportionate influence (ownership actually) that big money has over our congress for as long as I can remember. I'm trying to hold out hope that money-based lobbying may some day be outlawed, but that possibility seems pretty bleak right now. Like you said, nearly everyone seems too caught up in the comparatively petty "liberal" vs. "conservative" spats to focus on this biggest problem we face as a supposedly democratic society. It is a very sad situation.