By Nick Cardoso
During every election, one cannot help but notice the political advertisements that tout the various candidates’ policy proposals. Inevitably, these ads contain plans such as “standing up to Wall Street” and “simplifying the tax code,” which have been recycled by other politicians for nearly half a century now.
Naturally, this begs the question: “Why haven’t our politicians been able to fix the problems that they said they would?” And the answer, quite simply, is that we have a corrupt campaign finance system. No one will stand up to Wall Street or simplify the tax code when Wall Street executives and billionaires who benefit from the broken tax code are giving these candidates thousands, if not millions, of dollars in campaign contributions.
Right now, it’s perfectly legal for the super-rich to buy our politicians, which, in effect, kills our democracy.
Special interest groups hire lobbyists who collect campaign contributions, offer retiring politicians jobs and write the laws that Congress then passes to help those same special interest groups. Essentially, large corporations purchase politicians to do their bidding and provide these politicians with even more money to fund their re-election campaigns — it’s a vicious cycle that has repeated itself every day on nearly every issue by both parties.
Between 2007 and 2012, 200 of the most politically active companies spent a combined $5.8 billion in lobbying Congress, according to the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates for open government. Those same companies received an astonishing $4.4 trillion in tax relief.
What this amounts to is that a handful of billionaires currently control every aspect of our political life, and a political system like that is known as oligarchy, not democracy.
As if that weren’t bad enough, a Princeton University political study found there is absolutely no correlation between public opinion and public policy since 1970. Researchers discovered that when there is no support for a law, there is a 30 percent chance that it will pass, and when there is 100 percent public support for a law, there is still only a 30 percent chance it will pass. This means that the number of Americans for or against an idea have no impact on whether it gets through Congress.
So, if you’ve ever felt like your opinion doesn’t matter and the government is going to do whatever it wants, regardless of what you think, you were right.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, Congress passes the most meaningful laws in the United States. This means that expecting Congress to overturn the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision or pass the Anti-Corruption Act is akin to giving a fox the keys to the henhouse. In other words, there is no chance that politicians in Congress will pass a law that makes it infinitely more difficult for them to get re-elected.
The only recourse regular citizens have is to petition individual states to put these substantive measures to a ballot initiative vote. However, due to lack of awareness, this would be incredibly difficult to achieve and coordinate among the 50 states. So, it appears that unless Americans are willing to fight to create a government that represents their interests — not the interests of wealthy campaign contributors — we will remain stuck in a political system that works phenomenally well for those on top while everyone else remains silenced.
Democracy is dead in America — most of us just don’t know it yet.