A new study indicates that of elites, interest groups, and average citizens, average citizens have almost no influence on the government’s policy decisions. Researchers from Princeton University and Northeastern University looked at the key variables of 1,779 policy issues and concluded that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”
Unfortunately, recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court make this situation even worse by declaring corporations “people” with the same rights to spend freely during public elections. The limitations allowed under the ruling still prohibit companies from donating to individual campaigns but instead they can give unlimited amounts to “Super PACs” and other vehicles.
Follow-on rulings take this situation even further. A court decision in 2012 struck down a law that prohibited corporate contributions in a state election. There is now no limitation. No limitation on the amount of money that can be given by corporations to super PACs involved in an in-state election.
Further, in 2014, the court ruled that while contributions by individuals to campaigns still had a cap in terms of the amount given to a single campaign, there is now no limitation on the number of campaigns to which individuals can contribute. All of these decisions were by 5 to 4 votes with conservatives on the court voting as a block. And as has been seen, this has released billions of new dollars to enter the campaign process.
Figures which document political expenditures in the 2012 presidential elections show that each presidential candidate spent over a billion dollars, a large increase over that spent in prior years. Adding up all expenditures on 2012 elections including for example individuals, parties, PACs and super PACs, estimates top $7 billion dollars. A link shown below will take you to a list of the top ten companies donating to campaigns in 2012.
How else could we spend $7 billion dollars each year? It could cover the average of the total annual tuition cost for 300,000 in-state students in the U.S. colleges or retire the average total debt of about 200,000 2013 college grads in the U.S. Or it could provide inexpensive home solar powered electricity to over 56 million people/homes in Africa or dig 233,333 large-scale water wells to serve over 700 million people in Africa and India. The $7 billion we are spending in one U.S. election is a staggering amount of money!
Unfortunately with these new billions of dollars flowing into campaigns, the magnetic appeal of wealth has grown in its influence to the point at which the campaigns are a real opportunity for everyone, including the politicians, to make vast sums of money. What happened to public campaign financing, the influence of the average citizen, and a politician’s strength to resist winding up in someone’s political pocket?
After shutting down the government, creating political gridlock in congress, endless hearings on Benghazi, and over 50 votes to repeal Obamacare, as well as unmoving unemployment levels, unabashed gerrymandering of political districts, empty political promises, and the Snowden revelations, there should be little wonder about the low regard voters have for their politicians. These sentiments have been growing in the last few years as shown by each and every research vehicle.
We, the people, need to wrest back control of our political process. This means we have to institute firm limits on campaign private and corporate spending and seriously limit the amount of lobbying money available to public officials. We need to shorten the duration of campaigns for office, provide realistic public financing options and adopt a public, non-partisan and fair methodology for redistricting political jurisdictions. We must redistrict America. We need stricter restrictions on the revolving door of politics that lets government employees use positive regulatory and government decisions as the grease that sets up their upcoming private employment. Finally, we need term limits established for any elective or appointive post.
This is a tall order but we cannot afford half measures. If this means we must adopt omnibus constitutional amendments on truth in government or integrity from public officials and elections, so be it. I would also support a host of new laws that would re-establish our influence over how we are governed. I am waiting for a politician that will champion these changes and that whose lead I can follow.
Use the following links to gain more information on this topic or look at original source material:
Search Gilens and Page, select “Testing Theories of American Politics – Princeton University”. This .pdf will give the entire text of the study.
Search U.S. Supreme Court rulings about corporations as people. Move to page 3 and scroll down to 2nd entry, 08-205 Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission and select it for the full Supreme Court decision.