Get The Money Out of Politics

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With a record $4 billion dollars spent in 2014 mid-term elections and the lowest turn out in over seventy years, it’s time to get the money out of politics.

During the November 2014 battle for the Senate, 42 ultra wealthy donors accounted for nearly one third of Super PAC

Two professors, Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern released a study this fall that proved what many of us had suspected since the Supreme Court sold out democracy via their Citizen’s United and McCutheon rulings.  We no longer live in a democratic republic. We live in a plutocracy.

Plutocracy is a fancy word for government by the wealthy.  Here is part of the report from Gilens and Page:

“The analysts found that when controlling for the power of economic elites and organized interest groups, the influence of ordinary Americans registers at a non-significant, near-zero level.” The analysts further discovered that rich individuals and business-dominated interest groups dominate the policy making process. The mass-based interest groups had minimal influence compared to the business-based interest groups.”

 “The study also debunks the notion that the policy preferences of business and the rich reflect the views of common citizens. They found to the contrary that such preferences often sharply diverge and when they do, the economic elites and business interests almost always win and the ordinary Americans lose.”

 Chilling stuff.  As things stand, your vote doesn’t really count for shit.  This is why there is so much voter apathy.  Not because people don’t care but because they know that their vote really doesn’t matter.

Not in the sense that an election can be decided by a very small margin but that it doesn’t matter who gets elected.  They all work for some pay master so it’s like the South Park episode.  When you have to choose between a turd sandwich and a douche bag, why bother?

 Citizen’s United and McCutcheon v Federal Election Commission: The Supreme Court Rules Democracy Goes To The Highest Bidder

Citizens United versus Federal Election Commission was a 2010 ruling by the Supreme Court that made it legal for corporations and unions to spend unlimited money advocating for a particular political view or candidate.

McCutcheon versus Federal Election Commission was a Supreme Court ruling in April 2014 that removed “aggregate limit rules” that had prevented citizens from giving campaign contributions to as many candidates or political parties as they wanted.

The Citizens United ruling was one of the things that helped to spawn super PACS.  Before the Supreme Court decided to super size them, a PAC was a political action committee.  These PACS, under the terms of campaign finance laws, were strictly regulated.

PACS are not allowed to “coordinate” directly with a candidate’s campaign but can that is one of the few constraints they operate under.

Individuals could contribute no more than $2500 and corporations and unions could not donate at all.  The rulings changed all that and the money and the influence it pays for deluged campaigns unchecked.

As of December 13, 2014, 1,129 Super Pacs have received donations totaling $687,606,525.00.  That kind of money will buy you a lot of politicians.

 Dark Money Groups

The source of most political spending has to be reported.  But there are several loop holes that allow donors to spend unlimited amounts of money anonymously or to be reported only after a campaign is over.

501(c), or not for profit organizations, are required to report how much they spend but not from whom the money came.  So basically, anyone can set up a bullshit not for profit and buy an election.

Karl Rove, the king of many dark things, including money, has close ties to the 501(c) group Crossroads GPS.  The group spent $70 million dollars during the 2012 election, $10 million of that from a single, anonymous donor.

When I hear the term not for profit, I think of a charitable organization, maybe feeding the homeless or helping people after a natural disaster.  I don’t think of Mr Burns writing blank checks to buy elections.  But that’s what a lot of these 501(c)’s amount to.

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 What All That Dark Money Will Get You

Well, this week it got Citigroup a bill passed that was almost word for word what their lobbyists had written it to read.  Do you understand that?  CITIGROUP LOBBYISTS ARE WRITING LEGISLATION.  I may be shouting, I am very angry.

The newly passed legislation rolls back rules on derivatives trading basically allowing the banks to gamble with FDIC insured money.  So if there is another 2008, you can rest assured that it will be your tax dollars bailing them out again.

Not content with merely letting the lobbyists write the legislation, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon is reported to have taken it upon himself to personally call several legislators and urge them to pass the bill with the hand drafted legislation in place.

 From My Cold Dead Hands

That was the rallying cry of the late actor and former NRA President Charlton Heston during a 2000 NRA convention.  A similar quote had been around for years but the site of Moses himself spouting it from behind a lectern gave gun nuts everywhere a hard on.

I didn’t know much about the NRA before the school shooting in Sandy Hook two years ago, two years ago today actually, as I write this.  I knew they were a gun rights lobby group and were extremely powerful. I thought they must have tens of millions of members.

In fact, they only have a little over four million members.  But they spend a lot of money lobbying Congress.  In the wake of Sandy Hook, they outspent gun control groups by ten million dollars.

Lobbying Congress isn’t the only thing the NRA has going for it.  There are other groups that spend tens of millions more lobbying for their pet issues.  It’s that the NRA spends money reaching out to voters.  Their members are very politically active.

And each year the NRA publishes a handy guide rating political candidates on their “gun friendliness.”  So for people who are dumb enough to vote for someone based on a single issue, they need look no further.

Their money doesn’t talk so much as scream.  In the year following Sandy Hook, 27 states passed 93 laws expanding gun rights.

Since Sandy Hook, there have been 95 more school shootings, 96 in fact.  There was another Friday, December 12th.  Pew Research released poll results last week showing that for the first time in twenty years, more Americans favor gun rights over gun control.

If you can’t pass meaningful gun control legislation when you have a school full of dead first graders and teachers, when can you?  The answer is never because the NRA lobbies so hard against it.  Twenty dead first graders, six dead educators and no one can enact meaningful change because Congress doesn’t give a fuck so long as the money keeps rolling in.

They showed up to the funerals of those little kids, well practiced looks of “grief” plastered on their smug faces, they said all the right things to their grieving parents, then went back to DC and business as usual.  As Francis Underwood said, “When the tit’s that big, everyone gets in line.”

 What We Can Do

Well, this was depressing to research and it’s depressing to read.  So let’s spend a moment crying for our lost democracy and then do something about it.

 Amend the Constitution

Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico introduced a resolution that would restore the ability of Congress and the states to regulate the raising and spending of money on elections.  Groups such as People for the American Way are lobbying for this amendment.

 Support Term Limits

Congress has a 14% approval rating.  To put that in perspective, Gallup conducted a poll last summer and found things like roaches, lice, Ghenghis Khan, and North Korea, all polled higher than Congress.

The problem is that everyone seems to think, “Well, they all suck but my guy or gal,” because despite 14% approval, 96% of incumbents were reelected.

There are some problems with term limits.  It would turn people like Michelle Bachman, who is already a drooling lunatic into a complete kamikaze.  It would limit the terms of good Congress members like Elizabeth Warren.  Influence could still be exercised in the form of lucrative job offers once the Congress person was back in the private sector.

But it would get rid of out of touch old dinosaurs who have been locked up in DC and its way of life for so long that they have long lost the ability to understand the life of the average American.

 Break Up The Big Banks

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont will introduce legislation to break up Wall Street mega banks that, as mentioned above, are writing government policy to suit themselves.

If an institution is too big to fail, it's too big to exist.

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The six largest financial institutions have more than $9.8 trillion in assets.  That is equivalent to more than 60% of America’s Gross Domestic Product.  That is too much money to be gambled by arrogant bankers who learned nothing from 2008 other than they have carte blanche because the US tax payers will bail them out.  Again.

 Publicly Financed Campaigns

A lot of good, smart people who might like to serve in Congress don’t because they aren’t rich themselves or don’t have rich “friends” to finance a campaign.  That’s why there aren’t many farmers or scientists in Congress but there are lots of lawyers and business people.

Everyone running for office should have a level playing field.  If you get X number of signatures supporting your candidacy, you get X number of tax dollars for your campaign.  Everyone would get the same amount and that amount would be ALL that could be spent.

 Limit Campaigning

One reason for voter apathy is that people are sick of hearing about elections once it’s actually time to vote.  Almost from the moment there is an election, there is talk and speculation about the next.

If you are allowed to “campaign” for years before an election, that costs a lot of money.  If the amount of time a candidate is allowed to campaign was restricted, not only would elections cost less money, but politicians would spend more time working than they do campaigning which doesn’t seem to be the case now.

None of these things taken individually will get the money out of politics.  But if these and similar measures could be enacted, we might be able to take back our country from Wall Street banks and corporations.  Because honestly, seeing the ideals of our founding fathers perverted into some kind of utopia for rich people is getting a little sickening.

PS:  I was going to end this article with the above paragraph.  Then I checked my word count and it was 1776.  I’m taking it as a sign of approval from the above mentioned founding fathers!


Candice Elliott - Senior Editor
Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.

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