Biggest Problems: Money in Politics

Part of a series on the Five Biggest Problems Facing America:


5. Unnecessary wars

4. Inequalities in public education

3. Corporate tax loopholes (Tuesday)

2. Medicare (Wednesday)

1. Money in politics

Conclusion (Friday)

Quite simply, I think that money in politics is the single biggest problem in our society.  It has corrupted the system upon which liberal democracy is based almost completely.  And it is ultimately responsible for all of the other problems I’ve highlighted.

As the video above shows, the recent SCOTUS ruling that corporations are individuals truly exacerbates this issue, not to mention offending the commonsense sensibilities of just about everyone in our republic.

Honestly, I’m just so flummoxed with how the wealthy and corporations can buy politicians’ favor, that I don’t know anything we can do about it.  It may just be the reason that our republic falls.

I wish I could conjure up something pithy to write, or even propose a solution. But the thoroughgoing way that our system has been co-opted by money is utterly depressing to me. It leaves me speechless.

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  • Patrick

    I hope people will take a look at the two charts linked below before talking about how ‘corporate money’ is going to destroy our country.

  • Jeremy Loeding

    I don’t know if I can make you feel better tony, but in my opinion I largely agree with the court findings. Corporations don’t have rights per se, but the individual who happens to own a corporatoin or belong to a union does have rights, and these rights are not lost by merely acting through another organization.
    If the right of free speech is lost because individuals belong to corporations, then radio and tv stations, newspapers and magazines, and various groups on the internet would be subject to prior restraint by the government. Those who argue against permitting corporations to spend money on elections would never argue that corporate media entities like CNN should be legally barred from influencing opinion . The rights of the media are not inconsequential considering how the media can make or desroy a candidate with biased reporting, especially close to elections.
    The McCain/Feingold act, which would limit campaign donations to 2400 dollars per person in federal elections makes no sense. How could it be that the right to support a candidate is arbirtarily limited to a dollar amount? And why taht dollar amount? Yes, it is correct that the amount of money being spent on elections is obscene, but it’s understandable to me, since much is to be gained by financially participating in the process. The government is a growth industry, and tragically so. The real obscenity is the size of government and its intrusion into every aspect of our economic and personal lives, which generates the financial interest and invlovement in the elections.
    Campaign laws simply won’t slove the problem. Even if stricter laws were passed, the stakes are so great that the financing would just go under the table, in other words it will just take other forms.
    As bad as the process is, there is an even worse solution offered, which is taxpayer financed elections. Talk about abusing rights! That’s what would make me depressed

  • There are two ironies to me in arguments that support the Citizens United decison by a 5-4 vote:

    Conservatives often complain about an activist court. In their decision, the conservative Supreme Court justices threw out over a century of jurisprudence that backed the regulation of corporate involvement in elections.

    The second irony is that supporters of the decision also tend, without fail, to support the effectiveness of capitalism. As corporations pore even more money in the electoral process, why will this effectiveness not deliver results in the self-interest of these corporations. The Supreme Court has just predetermined the winners of elections. It won’t be Republicans. It won’t be Democrats. It will be corporate America. The decision shifted us to an age where we won’t have the senator from Arkansas or the congressman from North Carolina, but the senator from Wal-Mart and the congressman from Bank of America.

    Public financing of elections is overwhelmingly supported by citizens of this great country – in a 2008 poll, more than 65% of Americans supported this shift. Public financing curbs the influence of wealthy donors over politicians. Public financing allows candidates with limited resources to seek office, broadening the prospects for greater citizen participation. Public financing allows politicians to spend more time serving their constituents, and less time raising money.

    One minor disagreement with Tony – while it disgusts me, I DO NOT find corporate money in politics the #1 problem facing America. To me, it is poverty. In the city I live – Austin, often cited as the fastest growing metro in the the Texas that creates jobs – one in 5 adults and one in 4 children live in poverty. This widening income inequality has crippled the promise of economic mobility and is taxing the safety net of our country. We live interdependent lives – this poverty lessens us all.

  • Patrick

    Corporations don’t donate that much. Please see the chart below that eviscerates the premise.

    Where does the money come from for public financing? It costs a lot of money to advertise on radio and tv and to fly around the country meeting with people to get your message out. Surely you wouldn’t suggest giving them free air time, billboards and radio ads. Would crackpots get the same amount as President Obama or the GOP nominee? Who determines who is a crackpot?

  • Bluetexan

    It would behoove everyone to look back at the history of corporations in the US. Corporations are not people and should not receive protections as such. Allowing corporations the right to influence politics usurps the “one person, one vote” principle we hold dear. A CEO is essentially getting two votes as a citizen and a corporation.

    Funny that the folks that tend to rely heavily on the Founders’ intent on many positions do not defend the limits placed on corporations during the first half on this countries existence.

  • Patrick, you are so very pre-Citizen United. Take at a look at the 501c3 and SuperPacs that sprung up after the Supreme Court got all activist.

    Most Americans support a base amount (polling says $70M), with free air time for debates and stump speeches on TV & radio.

  • Patrick

    So for decades, unions and left-leaning organizations have been spending boatloads on campaigns and that was ok. Now corporations are spending a small fraction more than they used to – still light years less than unions – and that is cause for consternation and constitutional amendments.

    And the solution is prevent people from donating to the candidate of their choice (or not donate to anyone – no one is compelled to give money to a campaign) and instead the government will force all of us to pay up for everyone’s campaigns. Which, though they cost hundreds of millions today will now cost $70 million because government has decreed that is all we “need” to spend.


  • Patrick, I am curious. You point out one group has been spending boatloads on campaigns. Clearly, the Repub candidates have been grossly underfunded and corporations have been holding back for decades.

    You’re right – the current approach works great, corporations do not actually exert undue influence, we the people make our voices heard.

    Ish indeed, Patrick, ish.

    • Patrick

      Tony’s post is about corporate donations, which are tiny compared to unions. If you are concerned about money influencing government, wouldn’t it stand to reason that those donating the most have gained the most influence?

  • Phil

    Is there actually any data that shows a cause and effect relationship between the amount of money spent on campaigns and the success rates of those campaigns? I think that the most that is shown is a correlation – successful candidates raise more money because they’re seen as being successful, not the other way around.

    Campaign finance reform, the way it’s typically discussed, is really a type of incumbent protection. Indeed, the people who want it the most are career politicians. Of course they want to limit the amount that can’t be spent in ads against them and for their opponents. If anything, what we need is less regulation on contribution limits and full disclosure. Make it so every contribution is truly part of the public record.

  • Ish Patrick: corporate donations are tiny compared to unions.

    Spend a little more time on opensecrets – look at lobbying, interest groups, PACs. For an example of what drives cynicism, spend some time researching American Crossroads.

    C’mon Patrick – are we to believe that Repubs, who have historically outraised Dems 2:1, that Repubs receive all their funding from individuals.

    Ish indeed.

    • Patrick

      And Dems don’t have PACs, interest groups or do lobbying? I bet George Soros feels gipped.

      My point throughout all of these posts on all of these issues is the frightening ease with which people choose to have government run their lives. Whether its health care, campaigns or education, people seem to believe government can do all of these things when the evidence is to the contrary and history has proven the more a government gets involved in your life, the more it will get involved in your life. And freedom and liberty are the only antidote.

      People right now across the world are dying trying to get out from under their suffocating government. Yet many in the US believe more government is our only solution.

      I’ve asked for examples of which tribe, country, clan, group, whatever, is the model for the view that more government increases efficiency, peacefulness, liberty, etc. I’m still waiting.

  • Patrick – your construct is flawed.

    Business or govt do notnincrease efficiency, peacefulness, liberty, etc. People do. People who are interconnected. People who serve their country, make a living at work, even post on blogs.

    Please do not characterize the mainstream of America as “choosing to have govt run our lives”. Sacred texts speak of communities liberated, not freedom to buy or sell. Liberty means nothing in the greed and self-centered world that values profit over all other things.

    Funny thing about places where peoples revolutions take place – they form govt.