It’s easy to be sympathetic with calls to “get the bums out” of our federal and state legislative bodies; or to seek out a third party solution; or even to call for the end of the two-party system. But I don’t happen to believe any of these actions will – over the long haul – have the intended affect.
That’s because the most basic problem with our politics today is not party intransigence, but money and the influence that money has over the decision-making process. K Street lobbyists and corporations alike know that money is the key to legislative success given the costs associated with electioneering. The legislators are so deep into the pockets of their corporate benefactors that they can’t even recognize the influence that has been peddled to them. Hence the sincere sounding statements in support of such meaningless phrases as “job creators,” and the continued protection of American companies that shovel jobs overseas thus leaving our citizens buried in debt and despair.
Writing in the web publication Truthout, David Kristjanson-Gural notes that “financing is only the tip of the iceberg. Not only must candidates pander to corporate interests to successfully raise the funds needed to run for office, once they are in office, they are plied and courted with unrelenting advances designed to ensure that they do not lose their focus and begin to think about something other that promoting a favorable business climate.”
The fact is, the next group of independent-minded, non-partisan politicians whom we elect are just as likely to be purchased as the current group of partisan hacks.
In September 2010, the New York Times wrote, “Lobbyists, political consultants and recruiters all say that the going rate for Republicans — particularly current and former House staff members — has risen significantly in just the last few weeks, with salaries beginning at $300,000 and going as high as $1 million for private sector [corporate lobbyist] positions.”
And when Democrats were in the ascendency back in 2008, the Wall St. Journal noted, “Washington’s $3 billion lobbying industry has begun shedding Republican staffers [politicians], snapping up Democratic operatives [politicians] and entire firms, a shift that started even before Tuesday’s ballots were counted and Democrat Barack Obama captured the presidency.”
What we need is not new and better politicians, but less control of them by monied sources. In other words, we will not see genuine change in political practices until we get the money out of politics.
Unfortunately, the direction we’ve been traveling recently brings even more money into the game. The Citizens United case codified the right of corporations to spend as much as they wish on candidates, making corporations the equal of individuals in terms of their freedom to express themselves through political contributions. This stunning decision by the Supreme Court has further opened the floodgates of corporate control over politics, and further eroded the power of the individual voter to make his or her voice heard.
On the positive side, a number of movements, including www.unitedrepublic.org’s Get Money Out campaign and the Los Angeles City Government are fighting back against the untrammelled imposition of money on our entire political process.
So vote for third party candidates, vote to throw out the current legislators, vote for term limits if you must. But be aware that your vote is largely wasted if we cannot suck the corporate money out of the system and put politics back in the hands of the American citizenry.