When talking about politics today, it can become a contentious discussion of right versus left, both sides blaming the other.
There does seem to be one subject where voters on both sides of the aisle come together and that is the issue of money in politics.
When I say money in politics I am referring to the large donations from wealthy individuals and corporations allowed to influence and essentially buy politicians into office.
This system of buying elections has created a clouded line of political loyalty of the politician to their constituencies — not giving a true voice to those who went and voted for them, but the select few who paid for their campaign.
If a politician is given a large donation from, say, a pharmaceutical company and that company is lobbying for higher drug prices, then said politician is elected to Congress and they push for higher drug prices on behalf of the drug companies that paid for his campaign, that is influence.
In 2010, lawmakers looked to expand campaign financing laws to essentially allow for the unlimited funding of political campaigns when Citizens United v. Federal Election Commision was decided and that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections.
So, are corporations people? How is an entity that’s only goal is to make profit able to have a voice in government? Citizens United has given the purchasing power of elections to corporations over that of the people who actually go out and vote.
From oil and gas conglomerates such as Exxon Mobil, or banks and financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs, to political action committees set up by politicians or even sometimes-foreign governments, this issue stretches across both sides of the aisle. Democrat and Republican lawmakers both use big money donors to get elected and re-elected, and once they are in D.C. they pass policy in line with their donors and not their voters.
Even long before Citizens United, money in politics was a huge issue, and before her appointment to Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos said in a 1997 interview:
“I know a little something about soft money, as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party. Occasionally, a wayward reporter will try to make the charge that we are giving this money to get something in return, or that we must be purchasing influence in some way. They are right. We do expect some things in return.”
It’s no longer a secret that politicians use big dollar donations to get themselves into power. Hillary Clinton gave speeches to Wall Street bankers, such as Paloma Partner LLC, who alone donated $21 million to the 2016 Clinton presidential campaign.
It’s not just our national elections, but state and even local elections are all victims of this legalized bribery.
The issue has not been totally met with deaf ears, though. During the 2018 midterm, many candidates –– mostly within the Democratic Party –– ran on Bernie Sanders’ model of individual donations of $27 that propelled such candidates as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez into office.
So what could be done to have free and fair elections? Many have advocated for the overturning of Citizens United, or even an amendment to restrict campaign finance laws to predetermined amounts for individuals to donate.
I know this, though: before any true change can come in our country, I believe the buying of elections and elected officials needs to come to an end. When our elected officials answer to us, the debate can be controlled by the people, and not by those with the ultimate purchasing power of the mega-wealthy and their corporations.
Our lawmakers can discuss health care and drug prices without pharmaceutical companies’ hand on the button. Maybe sensible regulation on banks that gamble our money in bad investments, or a reasonable background check bill on firearms without the thumb of the NRA or firearm manufacturers coaxing the conversation with millions of dollars spent on both parties to ignore the people’s voice on such a large issue.
I know many will disagree with me, but I believe that until we halt the money influencing Washington and our elected officials, it will continue to hinder true change for all Americans.