Although we are in the full swing of an election year and all focus is on who will win, please remember that the influence of money in politics is about something far more important than who wins the next election. Yes, in fact, there is something more important than who wins in November – the fairness of our system.
As ‘outsiders’ to the political process, we citizens can associate the functioning of this system much like the functioning of a business. We are all familiar with franchises which leverage the standardization of processes for optimum and consistent results regardless of who is doing what job within the business. Strict adherence to protocol is expected or the consequence for the person is departure.
We citizens have allowed the elected officials to manipulate the process and to eliminate the consequence. Our focus should be on creating a system that consistently delivers the optimum result of constituency influence over money influence regardless of who is elected. This is indeed in our best interest, isn’t it? I would even go so far as to state that campaign finance reform is only partially about the election process and is mostly about the decision-making process during the act of legislating after being elected. The effects on our economic system of the money-influenced political system are already appearing in the very fabric of our society. Americans are responding to the economic system that is designed by our political players.
According to a poll, the public is not interested in pointing fingers at the “haves” and “have nots”, but instead, in economic fairness. The percentage of Americans who agree with the statement, “most people who want to get ahead can make it if they are willing to work hard,” is 58% which is lower than at any point since the question was first asked in 1994. At that time the percentage was 68% and remained there or higher for over a decade. However, for the last five years we have observed a constant decline to the now 58%. It is conceivable that within the next five years more Americans will disagree with this statement than agree. The toll that this level of hopelessness and despair can have on a society is devastating.
The growing critical sentiment of the fairness of the economic system is reflected in the 61% of Americans who now say that the economic system in this country unfairly favors the wealthy. Only 36% say that the system is generally fair to most Americans. What would cause only 36% of Americans to believe that our national economic system is fair? Isn’t ‘the land of opportunity’ our motto? When the majority of Americans, 61%, believe that the economic system unfairly favors the wealthy, we need to examine the causes and improve the system. After all, fairness of economic opportunity is the essence of our society.
The political system sets the ‘rules’ to the economic game in our country and certainly has the power to favor the wealthy. Removing the influence of money on the political system will reduce the incentive for political players to make the economic rules that unfairly favor the wealthy. The focus of the political system should be on the constituents, not on appeasing the wealthy for a constant flow of donations. We have the power to create such a system.
Unfortunately, the ‘insiders’ who have a vested interest in the status quo system are advancing the influence that money can have on the political system, and consequently on the nation’s economic system. The U.S. Supreme Court decided yesterday to overturn a Montana law prohibiting corporate contributions in elections. Unfortunately, the court did not even take this opportunity to address auxiliary transparency concerns. In the Citizens United ruling over two years ago, the Supreme Court reasoned that disclosure of corporate dark money would “provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions.” During the last two years we have the experience to prove that disclosure laws currently on the books do not work. A corporation can use a 501(c) nonprofit as a shell to hide its electioneering activity. The public has no way of ever knowing if the money behind the ads came from a corporation, a wealthy individual, or even a foreign government.
More than a dozen amendment bills are now pending in the US Congress to address the Citizens United ruling. The US Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing in July on amendment proposals. Please find the details in a previous post.