Money and Politics

One of the earliest decisions I made when I started my campaign for State Rep was that I would accept endorsements from groups whose goals aligned with mine, but that I wouldn’t be raising money from that. And, indeed, I have decided not to raise any money at all for the campaign.

This puts me at a heavy disadvantage given the current state of our politics. Money flows through it all very, very easily, especially since the Citizens United decision. I get letters and emails from PACS asking me to fill out surveys for possible endorsements and, if deemed appropriate, funding. As I’ve written about before, groups like Americans for Prosperity are spending millions of dollars to influence the elections in Michigan this year.

I happened to come across this political story, entitled “Big Money, the Koch Brothers and Me.” The article details reporter Kenneth P. Vogel‘s attempts to observe the secretive Koch brothers meetings with popular media personalities, conservative politicians, and other ultra-wealthy individuals. I found the article difficult to read because of the frank way it discusses the way in which our politics have changed over the last decade, and the ways in which money is warping the system.

Vogel concludes,

The result—the one Obama lamented on that rainy day in Washington state—is the privatization of a system that we’d always thought of as public. It amounts to the takeover—hostile or not—of American politics by the ultra-rich.

I think this is a fairly powerful indictment on the massive influx of money we’re seeing in politics. And I see the kinds of things that this sort of setup can bring when we see politicians who dole out checks on the House floor and others who kowtow to the special interests.

And who suffers? We do. The voters and the citizens who are not ultra-rich and do not have access to the halls of power like the Koch brothers. And I find it disturbing that people who operate under a moniker of “fair and balanced” are at these shindigs, giving presentations and schmoozing with those who operate out of the sunlight, and as Vogel notes, have privatized a once public system.

We’re the losers in this systems as our access and influence dwindles even as the amount of wealth the middle and lower class owns dwindles.

And this is why it’s time for a change in how our politics operates. We need to have sensible campaign finance laws, and pass laws to make political donations a matter of public record so that those who try to influence elections can be held accountable. When access to politicians is bought and policies crafted with a checkbook, we lose.

Update (12:08 AM): Bridge Magazine has an excellent article about the campaign spending by outside billionaires that is well worth a read. From the article, which can be found here:

Overwhelm them, and make them irrelevant. Local parties no longer control the dominant messaging in political campaign. Instead, a few highly motivated billionaires, often very ideological, are increasingly in a position to dominate political discourse in this country.

I don’t think this is a very good trend.