Thursday, December 15, 2011

Elections for sale?

The Sunlight Foundation reported recently that in the 2010 national election campaign, 26,783 persons gave $10,000 or more to candidates and issues of their choice. That's the American way, right? You're free to speak your mind, spend your money in the campaign as you wish, and vote for your personal choice on the second Tuesday in November.

Well, if you care about freely determined election outcomes, and if you care about openness and accessibility in the political process, and if you care about the implication of our commitment to "one man, one vote," then you should take a moment to think about the impact of the huge spending of this very small minority of political active Americans.

These 26,783 big spenders have very deep pockets. They actually spent an average of about $29,000 each in the federal election campaigns of 2010. That's a total of $774 million, ABOUT ONE-QUARTER of the total election spending that year. For each one of these big spenders, there are roughly 8,580 other Americans of voting age. That's a pretty lopsided comparison.

The Sunlight Foundation report

These big spenders do more than cast their votes. They can and do move the needle in individual campaigns, and in the public debate on general campaign issues. They have huge public and private influence on the candidates and the interest groups that support them. They have personal access to the candidates, before and after elections.

A very large majority of these people are corporate executives, investors, lawyers or lobbyists. They tend to be notably concentrated in New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles. They don't simply give to "their local candidate," they give to multiple candidates. The Sunlight Foundation reports that "a good number appear to be highly ideological"—these people are not average Joes and Janes, they tend to be sharply partisan rather than calmly reflective voters. And when they "put their money where their mouths are," they do it in a big way, much bigger than almost everyone else can manage.

That's the problem with unlimited personal and organization and corporate spending on political campaigns. It distorts and destroys the American ideal of "one man, one vote" because it greases the campaigns and facilitates the success of ideologically driven and ideologically enthralled candidates. It greases the campaigns and contributes to the success of candidates who are willing to take a lot of money from a few people—is their motive hard to figure out? Is it hard to understand the voting records of such elected representatives? Is it hard to figure out who they represent?

The flood of cash from the few and the furious doesn't take away your vote. It swamps your vote and drowns out your voice and puts in office too many politicians who aren't prepared to listen to you after they take office.

They hear the sound of money. It's not a tune I like to hear. How about you?

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