The government of the United States has been bought. No longer are citizens’ interests at the forefront of the minds of the majority of our politicians, but rather candidates are focused on an “easy” election.
In the 2012 election, over $6 billion was spent attempting to persuade the public to vote a certain way, with over $2.5 billion alone dedicated to the presidential candidates. This unprecedented spending is just another sign that our experiment with democracy is getting farther and farther away from its ideals. Rather than being held accountable by the electorate, today’s representatives are completely indebted to their financial backers. With one wrong move, a member of Congress can find himself “primaried,” a term for being contested — often by a “party-approved” and corporate-backed opponent — for their chance to be on the ballot the next election.
It all traces back to the laws regulating how much money can be donated in an election. The limit an individual can donate (in total) to various candidates is $123,200 for the 2013-2014 election cycle. However, this is being challenged in the supreme court as unconstitutional, with the plaintiff looking to eliminate such limits on individual contributions. Hopefully, the supreme court will recognize that these limits, and campaign finance regulation in general, are already so loose that democracy is suffering much more than anyone’s freedom of political speech. But I’m not holding my breath.
Three years ago, the Citizens United ruling completely changed the political landscape for elections. This ruling allows an unlimited amount of money to be donated in an election as long as it is to a group that does not have any “official” coordination with a particular candidate. By doing so, the doors were officially open for anyone, including corporations, to funnel millions of dollars into getting one particular candidate elected. Now, we are left with hundreds of representatives with debts to pay, and a democracy that is being run by corporations and the rich, not the people at large.
The current shutdown is an excellent example of where our government is heading if campaign finance reform is not taken seriously. With the Tea Party flexing its spending power to run ads against the Republicans, Boehner and his crew decided that it was more dangerous to represent the best interests of the American electorate than it was to appease the Tea Party. Obama also owes his election to his massive financial backing; he can only sit and watch the government burn if he wants to keep his political reputation intact. Thus, we are stuck with an extremely divided government filled with people who can only yell rhetoric across the aisle for fear of being blackballed by financial backers.
The only hope for any sort of break in this era of political gridlock is campaign finance reform. It is time to get the money out of politics, and start making elections about political issues. In a representative democracy the people need to have the power to ensure their voices are being heard, and that simply is not the case when corporations and wealthy patrons own a politician. Citizens United labeled money as speech, something I wholeheartedly disagree with. Rather than dollars choosing elections, it should be actual freedom of speech — at rallies and doorsteps, on phone calls and in town forums — that picks our next set of leaders.