More Money More Political Problems

Every American has opinions on how politics and elections should be handled. But our overarching distaste for even the simplest perceived flaws in our system has a very real impact: today, our nation faces its biggest backslide in voting in more than a century. To delve into the heart of this problem, political journalist and investigative 카지노사이트 reporter Andrew Gumbel interviewed Democrats, Republicans, and various voting rights activists to compile Down for the Count(The New Press, 2016).First published as Steal This Vote in 2005, Down for the Count provides a revised and updated look at the restrictions and distortions imposed throughout the history of United States’ elections as well as its reoccurring themes, the latest of which are embodied in strict voter ID laws and wild campaign spreading. Gumbel offers a critical assessment (and potential solutions) to the base problems in our electoral system. He concludes that while representative democracy looks like a strong national ideal on paper, it cracks continuously under the pressure of race, power, and money.

To find more books that pique our interest, visit the Utne Reader Bookshelf.

The Super-Rich and the Democratic Future

Imagine a political system in which votes are bought and sold freely in the open market, a system in which it is taken for granted that people will buy all the votes they can afford and use their power to get more money in order to buy more votes, so that a single magnate might easily outvote a whole city. Imagine a situation in which elections have become a mere formality because one or a few individuals are owners of a controlling number of votes. Suppose that nine-tenths of the members of the community are unable to exert any appreciable influence. Suppose, moreover, that the minority is entitled to very little information about what is being done. That is what the political system would be like if it were run the way business is run.

—E.E. Schattschneider1

Does representative democracy have a future, or is it just a phase we’ve been going through? If by “representative democracy” we mean a system in which a majority of voters holds meaningful sway over policy outcomes, the game in the United States may already be over.

The corrupting influence of money hasn’t just upended the priorities of elected officials, who now spend more time raising funds than talking to constituents or researching the issues they vote on. It hasn’t just made campaigns more expensive, more media-saturated, and more vicious. The scenario that Schattschneider imagined in 1960 has largely come to pass. Magnates do outvote entire cities, at least in those cases — the majority — where media coverage of political campaigns cannot keep up with the relentless flow of money. 바카라사이트 For many people living in noncompetitive or uncontested districts, elections have indeed become just a formality. Billionaires now sponsor presidential candidates (or run for president themselves) the way Renaissance popes and princes once patronized artists; where those candidates previously had to sway party committees and state delegates to become viable office seekers, now they need to win over an audience of just one. As the Wall Street Journal observed of the record crop of billionaire-backed Republican candidates for 2016, “The life of their candidacies is now divorced from their ability to directly raise money from voters.” Whether money alone can translate into electoral success remains to be seen, but it can certainly catapult presidential candidates over the first hurdle and into the public limelight.

Jimmy Carter has described the United States as an oligarchy, and a widely publicized academic study published in 2014 went a long way toward backing him up. “Our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts,” the political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern wrote. “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But… if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of af?uent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

Journalists like to divide billionaires involved in American politics into simple categories of good and bad, depending on the point of view. Tom Steyer, the San Francisco hedge fund manager, is good if you’re an environmentalist, bad if you think global warming is a hoax. Charles and David Koch, the Wichita industrialists and energy magnates, are good if you’re a Tea Party Republican, brother devils incarnate if you’re a liberal. That coverage, however, is misleading, because the very rich really are different from you and me. Another recent study comparing the political views of America’s top 1 percent with the electorate as a whole found the billionaire class to be far less committed to excellence in public school education (35 percent against 87 percent of all Americans), less committed to public-sector job creation, less committed to providing viable benefits to the unemployed, and less interested in increasing taxes to support universal health care — or for any other purpose. In short, they skew significantly to the right of the average voter and are generally skeptical about the public sector’s power to generate jobs and beneficial social change. They favor tax cuts over programs for the poor, and deficit reduction over government stimulus plans. 온라인카지노

At the same time, the super-rich are far more active politically than most of us, taking full advantage of their wealth to contribute to campaigns and to enjoy the access that their money grants. Two-thirds of the top thousand campaign donors in the 2012 cycle favored Republicans, as one would expect given their overall political profile. Financial services was the sector that gave the most — helping to explain why both parties backed away from aggressive Wall Street reform in the wake of the 2008 economic collapse, despite overwhelming public support, and why the Justice Department under Obama failed to prosecute a single top financial executive. Of those thousand top donors (making personal contributions of at least $134,000 each), 40 percent said they had contacted a U.S. senator, 37 percent a member of the House of Representatives, 21 percent a regulatory official, 14 percent someone in the executive branch, and 12 percent a White House official. Most Americans can barely name their representatives, much less recall chatting with them.

The way billionaires wield influence is rarely as crude and sinister as huddling with elected officials over cigars in some darkened room and plotting ways to subvert the public interest. It’s about access and the flow of information. Long before Citizens United launched the money aspect of politics into the stratosphere, the one-term Georgia senator Wyche Fowler explained the basic problem. “The brutal fact that we all agonize over,” he said in the early 1990s, “is that if you get two calls and one is from a constituent who wants to complain about the VA mistreating her father, for the 10th time, and one is from somebody who is going to give you a party and raise $10,000, you call back the contributor… There’s no way to justify it. Except that you rationalize that you have to have money or you can’t campaign. You’re not in the game.”

Nowadays, of course, it’s unlikely that an ordinary constituent would get through to a senator even once, much less ten times. And, in a world where the Koch brothers are planning to raise almost $1 billion for the 2016 election cycle, $10,000 would barely buy a plate at a fund-raising dinner. Still, being in the game is what continues to drive American politics. Elected officials can disregard the public clamor for strict regulation of the derivatives market and still be in the game. But they can’t turn their back on their Wall Street contributors and say the same thing. “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” Gilens and Page wrote, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

The same imbalance of access and outcomes applies to longerstanding lobbying groups with specific policy interests, like the National Rifle Association (NRA) or the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). These groups don’t just lobby for a particular point of view on domestic or foreign affairs; they use their campaign spending as leverage to close down debate before it can even begin. Congressional members aren’t just afraid of losing their NRA or AIPAC funding if they step too far from the approved line — they are also afraid of how relentlessly these groups might back their opponents and flood the airwaves with negative advertising. The consequence is that the Israeli government endures a fraction of the scrutiny in Washington that it does at home, and even modest gun safety measures with broad popular support do not make it through Congress, no matter how many senseless mass shootings hit the headlines. One does not have to be a critic of Israel or of the NRA’s tireless advocacy on behalf of gun manufacturers to see that taking issues off the table in advance and demonizing even the suggestion of discussing them is not a democratic way of conducting public business.

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