Saturday December 09, 2023

Money and politics

January 09, 2021

The list of problems for Americans is long, from a growing debt crisis, to immigration, race issues, policing, shrinking of the American middle class, lack of upward social mobility, healthcare, gun control and many more. These issues have plagued American society for decades, with Democrats and Republicans acquiring and conceding power, promising to fix these issues but without much success.

In recent times, we have had food lines in many American states, unemployment soaring at 6.7 percent, and small businesses closing at astronomical rates. According to an economic report released in December 2020, small restaurants have been closing at a rate of 61 percent, retail business at a rate of 58 percent, and bars at 54 percent.

We have had millions of Americans losing their homes because they cannot afford to pay their next mortgage or rent. According to the Aspen Institute’s Financial Security Program, up to 30-40 million people can lose their homes if there isn’t significant federal intervention.

With such dire and catastrophic economic numbers confronting the US government, why have we not been able to get a more efficient and a more appropriate response from our government?

The primary reason for this inefficiency is the influence of money in politics. Money and its influence are at the heart of many of our problems, but it has now seeped into our political structure, as a cancer that has metastasized our whole political landscape.

The influence of money in politics has always been around, however it is the complete monetization of democracy in our political system that has had a corrosive impact.

According to Open Secrets, a center for Responsive Politics via their open source website, the average amount of money spent on a congressional seat is around $2 million, the average money spent on a senate seat is around $15.7 million, while the recent presidential elections cost an astronomical $14 billion. This is twice the amount of money that was spent in the previous general elections. This encompasses the annual GDP of many small countries.

One specific Supreme Court case that accelerated this trend is ‘Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission’, in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of the first amendment rights of the free speech of US corporations. This allowed big US corporations and big individual donors to spend unlimited amounts of money through Super Packs, “entities created for the sole purpose of passing money for big corporations”. This, in effect, poured limitless amounts of money in election campaigns.

The resultant impact has been as corrosive to our body politics as never seen before. In a point of comparison, roughly $6.6 billion was spent in the presidential and congressional election in 2016, whereas roughly $14 billion was spent in the 2020 elections. Most of this is coming from big individual donors and corporations.

How does one expect elected officials to represent the interest of the common man, when most of their funding for elections and re-elections comes from their big donors? This core influx of money into our electoral process is why we see that after years and years of election cycles, governments and parties changing hands, there is no progress in resolving our core issues.

As a matter of fact, we do not see any movement against the big pharmaceuticals to control drug prices, despite a general consensus from a vast majority of Americans to control this. We also see a lack of government action against basic gun control measures, despite the majority of Americans’ consensus on gun control. Issue after issue, we see governments not responding to the will of the people, but instead toeing to the interest of the big corporations and their lobbyists.

The list of lobbyists representing big corporate interests is long. Pharmaceuticals, the NRA, insurance, fossil fuels, auto, financial services, to name a few, have a strong influence in legislative decision-making at the highest level.

We have a system where democracy has been monetized, where the wealthiest pockets get the most influence. This system of pay-for-play has become rooted in our body politics and has made it rotten to the core. It has made the system less representative of the people. No wonder then that, even with a wide consensus on many political and economic issues of our times, American governments, both past and present, both Democrat and Republican, have been frozen to respond to the needs and wants of the people.

If American governments want to deliver for the common man, if we want our democracy and our institutions to work for our people, then we must legislate to restrict the role of money in politics.

The writer is a certified public accountant based in Florida, USA.