The best government money -- lots and lots of money -- can buy
Big money has become such an integral part of politics that office holders and would-be office holders can accept millions of dollars from special interests without any taint of corruption. Is government by the highest bidder what our forefathers had in mind?
One governor and his wife are currently on trial, accused of accepting gifts and loans valued at more than $150,000 in exchange for political favors. Another governor is accused of meddling inappropriately with a state commission investigating -- wait for it -- corruption in state government. Yet another governor is looking to put recent corruption charges behind him as he prepares for a serious run for the White House.
But if you believe the political researchers, there's actually less corruption in politics now than there was in the past. In a January 24, 2014, New York Times story, Michael Wines quotes Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics as claiming U.S. politics were much more corrupt in the 19th and 20th centuries than they are today. Only the public perception of political corruption is skyrocketing, according to Sabato.
Perhaps the public's definition of "corruption" is broader than the researchers' definition. In fact, the claim of a decline in political corruption in recent years is based on the number of politicians convicted on corruption charges. Could it be that today politicians are able to feather their own nest at the public's expense without having to bend or break any of the rules?
Making the connection between corporate campaign contributions and political influence
One of the few positions shared by Democratic and Republican officeholders is that they are not influenced by the parties who lobby them and contribute to their campaigns. As Harvard University's Steven Strauss reported in December 2011 on the Huffington Post, politicians' claims in this regard just don't hold water.
For every dollar a company spends to lobby in favor of tax benefits, the return is from six times to 21 times, according to research reported in the Journal of Law and Policy and in the American Journal of Political Science, both in 2009. Corporations spend about $3.5 billion a year in lobbying, according to Strauss. In return, the Cato Institute estimates the corporations realize benefits totaling about $90 billion each year.
Have the financial industry's 'money addicts' taken control of the U.S. political system?
Money is now recognized as an addictive substance. In an article published in the New York Times on January 19, 2014, Sam Polk, a former hedge fund trader, described his money addiction and how he overcame it. The rules of Wall Street make it possible for money addicts to feed their habit.
As AlterNet's Les Leopold pointed out in a January 22, 2014, response to Polk's confessional, "[m]ost economists... argue that all profits, no matter their source, are productive profits. The ever-omniscient markets wouldn’t allow Wall Street to make so much money unless an equal amount of value was produced in exchange.... [E]ven Polk knows firsthand that Wall Street’s wealth is based on producing products that have no redeeming value at all, except to siphon off the wealth of others."
Leopold blames the market-deregulation trend that began in the 1970s as the facilitator of Wall Street's unbridled money addiction. He cites Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers showing that yearly compensation in the financial sector since the 1970s has boomed, while yearly compensation in the non-financial sector has remained flat over the same period.
"Before deregulation, no matter how smart you were (and no matter how addicted to money) you couldn’t make more on Wall Street than you could in the rest of the economy.... [T]axes on the rich were high and the income of the average worker was rising steadily (even after inflation). But after deregulation, Wall Street wages went sky-high and are still climbing because our economy’s wealth was moved into the financial sector. Most working people haven’t seen a real rise in income for over 30 years."
(Read more about the "legal" link between money and political power.)
Browser extension gives you the low-down on a politician's contributions at a glance
If you're curious about which corporations and special-interest groups are giving how much money to which politicians and political candidates, head over to OpenSecrets.org, which offers a comprehensive list of the top organization contributors. The organizations are rated for their "partisan tilt" in five categories: solidly Democrat/liberal, solidly Republican/conservative, leaning Democrat/liberal, leaning Republican/conservative, and on the fence.
Now you don't even need to visit a separate site when you want to find out the contributors and amounts contributed to a specific politician. The free Greenhouse Extension for Firefox, Chrome, and Safari shows the details of a politician's contributors in a pop-up window whenever you hover over the person's name on a Web page. The contribution information is broken down by industry and includes the percentage of total contributions that were for $200 or less, the ranking among Congress members in percentage of small contributors, and a link to more information on Rootstrikers' Reform.to site.
Only by dismantling the plutocracy that has resulted from the undue influence exerted by corporations over the political system will it be possible to ensure that "government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."