Politics have always been influenced by money. This has not only been true of democratic republics such as ours, but every conceivable form of government. It may be impossible to extricate the two. There will always be people in a position to influence policy and there will always be those willing to buy that influence from them. There is no way, despite what my anarchist friends think, to avoid it. That said, there are ways to contain and severely limit it, especially in a society like ours, with the institutional tools to do so.
For starters, we can make it easier for those without money to get in the game. We can do this by making public funds available for their campaigns. A particularly clever method of doing so involves matching campaign funds for small donations. For instance, doing what NYC does, and what has been proposed statewide: for every dollar under a certain amount donated, the state will donate five more. That effectively makes a 50 dollar contribution a 300 dollar contribution. If you cap the amount a donor can give at 250 to get those matching funds then you make it more likely that those running for office will look to the little guy both for help and when they are making their decisions in office.
In the wake of Citizens United we need to also lessen the influence on our media big money has. To that end we need to pass a law requiring broadcast media outlets to give away airtime to qualifying candidates. The television and radio stations do not own the airwaves, we do. If you own rental property you can set the terms of a lease, if you are renting your landlord can do so with you. This is no different. We, the American people, need to set the terms of the lease of our airwaves.
As things stand now, even the noblest of public servants has to go right into fundraising as soon as they are elected. That means they have less time for those of us who cannot help them to that end. It is not so much a matter of out-and-out bribery, though I am sure that happens, as much as is a matter of you listen to who is present, and right now, the only people present in politicians lives are those who contribute to them.
The income gap in our society is widening. The longer we wait to act on this, the less likely it will be we can act. The great news, however, is that there is still time. Write letters to the editor. Contact your Senator and House Representative. Go to your state’s government website and find out who your legislators are and pester the heck out of them with snail mail, e-mail and phone calls. Help out financially, however you can, those organizations fighting for Fair Elections: Working Families, CANY, NYPIRG (or whatever PIRG serves your state,) and anyone you can find in your region with a simple web search. Finally, all of those organizations hold rallies for this and other issues. Find out when they are and join them. Nothing gets the attention of our leaders like a lot of people on the streets.
It is time we tear down this wall of money separating our elected officials from us. We need to send a message that our government, one of, by and for the people, is no longer for sale. We should not have to scream to get our voices heard, but with a little more hollering, we might just be able to make it so we do not have to shout anymore.
- NYC Mayoral Hopeful Will Now Seek Matching Funds (theepochtimes.com)
- Bernie Sanders Files the Constitutional Amendment to Undo Citizens United (politicususa.com)
- Who’s Funding Who? Our New Databases Let You Explore L.A. Political Money (kcet.org)
- Coalition says loopholes would close with campaign reform (timesunion.com)