Money in Politics: A Question of Equal Representation and Democracy

by Ken Dammand

Democracy cannot survive when money is directly exchangeable for political influence. We long ago acknowledged this when we forbade direct payments to politicians in return for favors.  But we have failed to acknowledge that allowing unlimited contributions to political campaigns and unrestricted “independent” expenditures on behalf of candidates has exactly the same effect. 

And because the aggregation of individual wealth in the U.S. is almost exclusively the result of corporate activity, the large and therefore influential expenditures almost always promote legislation favorable to corporations.

Unfortunately, policies that increase the profits of corporations are rarely beneficial to the general public. Corporate profits are increased by policies that lower environmental protections, reduce wages (and jobs!), decrease or eliminate corporate taxes, allow monopolies, sacrifice consumer safety, and on and on.   The majority of citizens would not support any of these effects.  Yet we have seen all of them increasingly promoted by public policy over the past several decades, in almost perfect correspondence with the increasing cost of electoral campaigns.
The high cost of running for office together with the unrestricted opportunity to supply large quantities of cash to promote candidates, has corrupted our democracy and made our elected officials indentured servants of those who can afford to underwrite their campaigns.  When those masters are corporations or their immediate ultra-wealthy beneficiaries, the consequences for the general public are not good. The consequences for democracy are even worse.
Since, at present, the majority of this corrupting money comes not from corporations directly but from wealthy individuals directly benefitting from corporate profits, preventing corporations themselves from making financial contributions to campaigns will not eliminate their influence over our democracy.
If corporations were immediately banned from making political contributions, for example, the Koch brothers would still be able to make contributions promoting the interest of their corporate operations.  And they, as well as many other ultra-wealthy individuals in this country, could singlehandedly underwrite the entire $12 billion spent by all candidates for federal office in 2012 without the expenditure noticeably affecting their lifestyle.  For this reason, the solution to the unequal opportunity to spend money to influence government policy must consist of a limit on expenditures, from any source, which are intended to influence the outcome of elections.
If today we limited any single source of campaign financing to, perhaps, $5000 per candidate and $15,000 individual total in any given year, the undue influence of corporations AND their real human advocates would be significantly reduced.  This is the reason that Fix Democracy
First is strongly supporting SJR19 and HJR119, congressional bills that would amend the US Constitution to allow Congress to set limits on the spending by both individuals and legal fictions such as corporations and PACs for the purpose of influencing elections.
Here in Washington State, PAC money is playing a significant role in determining legislation.  A great example is the state senate race between Tim Sheldon and Irene Bowling in the 35th LD.  A mountain of PAC money is pouring in to support Sheldon who runs as a Democrat but caucuses with the Republicans and has, by this decision, turned over the chairmanships of all Senate committees to the Republicans.  Of course, these PACs, so pleasantly named, are fronts for other PACs and groups that nearly exclusively back Republican, business friendly, candidates.
Taxpayers for Sheldon, for example, is funded largely by the Washington Association of Realators PAC, the Building Industry Association of Washington, Physicians Insurance and  the Washington Beverage Association PAC.   Sheldon’s payoff to them:  a Republican dominated senate that can stop legislation that might increase taxes on business or introduce necessary regulation.   And the monetary battle for the soul of Democracy go on.
Let’s set the stage for meaningful regulation of these expenditures by supporting the Congressional effort to amend the U.S. Constitution to allow Congress and the states to legislate reasonable limits.  It really doesn’t cost an arm and a leg for candidates to let the voters know what their positions are on major issues and what their experience has been.  The rest of the money just buys influence.
Both of Washington’s U.S. Senators and all of the Democratic representatives are supporting SJR 19 and HJR119, respectively.  Please let your Federal and state legislators know you also support these bills.