The Worst Congress Money Can Buy-Thanks Citizens United

There’s been a big push lately to put an end to an (Un) Supreme Court ruling that is as anti-democracy as Russia– Citizens United. This single ruling—by far the most anti-democracy ruling to come out of the John Roberts shamefully activist, pro-pluotcratic court in history—enabled a foul smelling truth about money in politics to waft across the amber waves of grain, and from sea to shining sea like a rotting corpse. That corpse being the democratic republic the founding fathers foresaw and that the right loves as long as it boosts the 2nd Amendment—the rest are just window dressing to them.01

Though wealthy donors cleverly obscure payoffs through dark money deposits into political pockets, it’s no secret to the American public that the rich are literally buying the government and paying for favorable legislation.

The extent of Americans’ cynicism about politicians and their “paid-for motives” was exposed last week in poll results published in the New York Times.

  • 84 percent said money’s influence in politics is too great.
  • 85 percent, said the system for funding campaigns must be fundamentally or completely reconstructed.

Unfortunately, the very people that would pass such reform are the same people being bribed to the tune of billions of dollars.

Therefore, Americans just don’t believe that reform will happen. Fifty-eight percent expressed pessimism. And rightly so. Sure, Americans retain the right to vote politicians into office. But once a politician is entrenched, these so-called representatives of the people are far more likely to meet with donors than with voters, much less pay attention to any of the voters’ concerns. And they’re far more likely to pass legislation wanted by the rich than crucial to the rest of the constituency. The result is the government helping the rich get richer – after which the rich help the politicians get richer. And workers lose even more political clout. It’s become downright demoralizing to the vast preponderance of American voters.

Americans’ instinctual understanding of the power of the rich over politicians is supported by two recent studies. One found that ordinary citizens have little or no influence on policy. The other showed politicians are far more likely to listen to the wealthy than to their own constituency.

Two university professors examined how politicians handled 1,779 policy issues and determined that lawmakers were far more likely to do what the rich wanted than the voters.

Martin Gilens, professor of politics at Princeton University, and Benjamin I. Page, professor of decision making at Northwestern University, concluded, “In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.”

The rulers, the professors determined, are the rich: “. . . economic elites stand out as quite influential – more so than any other set of actors studied here – in the making of U.S. public policy.”

Just as disheartening to the average voter is this finding: “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they [citizens] generally lose.” In 2014 alone, in a low turn-out midterm election, over 1 million more votes were cast for Senate Democrats than Senate Republicans, yet Republicans gained the majority in the Senate. Through gerrymandering and a general feeling of helplessness among the electorate, the candidates with fewer votes won.

In the second study, two University of California professors found that the majority has a hard time even getting a foot in the doorway of an elected representative. A constituent can send an email to a U.S. Senator or Representative’s office or call and talk to a clearly bored Congressional intern about an issue. But the two political science professors found that for a non-donor to even get a meeting with the lawmaker or top staffer is extremely unlikely.

The professors, Joshua L. Kalla and David E. Broockman, described their results this way: “Our experiment is the first to clearly document that policy makers grant preferential treatment to individuals because they have donated substantial dollars to campaigns.”

In other words, politicians are saying, “Give me lots of your money if you want me to give you the time of day.”

The Kalla and Broockman study explains, in part, why the rich get the legislation they want and the majority does not. Backed up by data from political science, professors said of the results, “If legislators choose to meet with individuals more often because they have contributed to campaigns, they place unique value on donors’ concerns.”

With the cooperation of a nonprofit organization and its members who were also political donors, the professors sent emails to 191 Congressmen asking for meetings. Randomly, half of the emails specified that political contributors wanted to discuss an issue, while in the others, the donors seeking the meeting were identified only as constituents.

Kalla and Brookman found that members of Congress were more than three times as likely to meet with donors than average constituents.

Of those described as donors, 12.5 percent got meetings. But of those labeled merely as constituents, only 2.4 percent got meetings.

And at those meetings, 18.8 percent of those identified as donors met with a senior staffer, while only 5.5 percent of those identified as constituents gained equal access.

The obvious conclusion is that politicians’ are snubbing the majority and fawning to the rich; and that clearly means the wealthy control the legislative agenda. Kalla and Broockman put it this way:

“Our results thus suggest that the vast majority of Americans who have not donated signifant amounts to campaigns are at a disadvantage when attempting to express their concerns to policymakers. Few Americans can afford to contribute to campaigns, while those who can afford to do so in substantial amounts have markedly different preferences and priorities than the broader public.”

This is cash providing political access, something the conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court contended would not occur when they gave a free rein to political spending in the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions. And, the conservative majority on the court said, even if it did occur, it wouldn’t corrupt politics. Corruption, they contended, occurred only when a politician took money after the donor specified that the gift was to buy a vote.

Please. What the blatantly conservative Justices said was, “Democracy be damned; money talks and bullshit walks.”

The rich, however, are purchasing government in ways more subtle than that.

And the New York Times poll shows clearly that the vast majority of citizens want it stopped. Seventy-seven percent said the amount of money individuals can give politicians should be limited; 78 percent said the amount that groups supposedly not affiliated with a candidate can spend should be limited; 75 percent said the days of dark money should end and all donations disclosed to the public.

Americans know what all that political money means. It is the end of the American democracy. It is the triumph of governance by powerful business organizations and a small number of rich people.  They know that this is how Russia operates, it’s the way China operates, and it will be the demise of the American experiment in running a country as a true democracy if it is not changed.

The New York Times poll found 39 percent of Americans are still optimistic that campaign financing can be changed so that a true democracy can flourish. These are the people behind a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. These are the people urging the Internal Revenue Service to forbid political groups from magically transforming nonprofit social welfare organizations into havens for dark money from rich donors who don’t want their identities disclosed. These are the people urging President Obama to issue an executive order mandating that federal contractors, as well as their directors, officers, affiliates and subsidiaries, disclose political spending.

The Twenty-seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits any law that increases or decreases the salary of members of Congress from taking effect until the start of the next set of terms of office for Representatives. It is the most recent amendment ratified. It was submitted by Congress to the states for ratification on September 25, 1789. The amendment became part of the United States Constitution on May 7, 1992, following a record-setting ratification period of 202 years, 7 months, and 12 days.

I don’t believe that the United States as we know it can wait 202 years, 7 months, and 12 days to change the campaign finance law passed by this most (Un) Supreme Court in U.S. history.

Harvey A. Gold