Does money buy elections, or politicians?

The recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down a portion of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform law which was passed in 2002 was assailed by Pres. Barack Obama in his first State of the Union speech when he said "Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections." Let us ignore the comment about a "century of law" as the court overturned seven years of law, although it may seem as if it has been a century since it was passed. And also the part about foreign corporations who have a right to have their US subsidiary interests represented. What I would like to focus on is what role does money really play in elections?

Obviously, this post could fill volumes, but really the question is quite simple... What are politicians afraid of? They always claim that money will buy elections, but look at it this way. What good is buying an election if the politician is not also bought? If Hendrick Motorsports took reigning 2006-2009 NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson's #48 car and gave it to me to drive, do you think they would get back the money they spent on the car? Of course, not. They need a great driver to drive a great car in order to win.

Every politician connotes that other politicians can be swayed by contributors but they, themselves cannot. If this is not true, then why do the majority of sacrosanct politicians always try to take the money out of politics? Does money give their opponent an advantage? Candidate Obama pledged that he would abide by the financing limitations set forth in "settled law" but when he found that he was raking in cash from "the people" to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, he decided that hearing "the people's" voice was more important than following a campaign pledge. A pledge that his less fortunate opponents were bound to follow. Not because they believed in the law (though McCain co-wrote it), but because THEY NEEDED THE MATCHING FUNDS.

The-Asterisk alert: perhaps the reality is that the presidential campaign is really the only competitive race in the federal election system and the effect of money on the presidential race was not the target of the McCain-Feingold law. Most incumbents are not concerned with losing their seat to a weak challenger. They are concerned about losing their seat to a strong challenger. What better way to nullify challengers than to mute their voice, especially in the critical 60 days before an election? Presidential campaigns are out of body experience and I believe the control over presidential campaigns by the FEC is an there for cover only. The real battle is in the House and Senate.

In modern politics how do we define voice? Money, of course. In the current best seller "Game Change" the authors talk extensively about how the politicians rank and rate themselves based upon how much money is coming into the coffers, week by week, month by month. The more traction Obama's speechifying got him, the more money came pouring in to his campaign, and the less money came to Hillary's campaign because in party politics, money is usually a zero-sum game. Obama's income went through the roof only after he began attracting independents and crossovers who showed their love how??? Contributions of MONEY.

In Obama's case, he would tell you that money was an affirmation of his message, though in his SOTU speech the other night, the implied that money was a corruption of other's deeds. Can a politician really have it both ways? They always spin it that way, but you know that money can only corrupt a corruptible politician. Another point in "Game Change" is how much time pols spend schlepping for money and how much they hate it. As soon as one campaign is won, the hands go out, collecting money for the next one. Ad infinitum.

Back in the day, politics was totally a party game, with candidates being selected in "smoke filled rooms" by party power-brokers and then the chosen candidates duked it out in the general election, mano-a-mano. Actually "we the people" were lucky if there was any "duking it out" since many elections were decided by political machines, keeping incumbents in power until they died and then replacing them with another compliant politician.

Then, along came radio and TV. Suddenly, populism started to push the power-brokers out as the deciders. Except for one thing... advertising was not free! You needed money to buy media advertising and those TV spots were VERY expensive. Now the candidates needed more money than ever to mount a credible campaign. Incumbents were already spending an inordinate amount of time involved in fund raising and now they needed to raise MORE money to fend off challengers? I can hear them now, "Hrrmph. I am a United States Senator up here doing the people's work and this guy is on the radio spouting lies about me. I am working hard every day, but his only job is to run against me and my enemies are funding him to do so. I need to stop him (or at least keep him quiet.) Let's make it difficult for him to raise money except in tiny amounts from large numbers of people. We, on the Hill, have the bully pulpit, franked mail and other powers of incumbency. We should be able to handle this threat."

Laws have been passed to keep money out of politics for decades, but like water, you cannot stop money when it wants to flow. Many rich challengers have spent fortunes in self-funded campaigns only to lose the election. I admit it... I HATE political ads. They are all BS. (I don't know how those poor souls in Iowa can stand it.) Day after day you hear ads. In the general election, especially on radio, it is a constant barrage of ads. You actually look forward to hearing an ad about hemorrhoids or car dealers! But what is the alternative? Are you actually swayed by ads? Everyone says NO, but the evidence suggest the opposite. Ads work, especially for the majority of people who are not wrapped up in politics, whose only real exposure to politics is what they hear in the media.

The alternative is leaving the message up to the incumbent and the media. Even in our wired world, radio and TV advertising are still huge and ads permeate the online experience as well. Do we want to allow our opinion to be shaped merely by what we read in the paper, browse online at CNN or Washington Post, or by what we see on CBS, ABC, NBC, MSNBC and even FoxNews? Or would we rather hear what the candidates want to say and more important, what others have to say about them? Should we stop "the others" from speaking 60 days before a general election? This is the golden time when most voters start really listening and that is when the law wanted to shut the "other" voices down.

Presidential campaigns get the big attention, but as we are now seeing, the legislative branch of government is as important as the executive and this is where the law was intended to do its damage. The straw man argument is against foreign governments and BIG corporations, but it actually squelched the speech of many organizations like Green Peace, PITA, NRA, NARAL and many, many more that have something to say for their members. All of these organization represent people, even the corporations.

Listen to what the politicians are actually saying about money. Read between the lines. Follow the money. Ask yourself how can a public servant get rich on $200,000 per year when they maintain at least two residences? But they do get rich, don't they? The powerful ones all retire with money... much more than they had when they came to Washington. So, who's corrupt??? Who is trying to keep their jobs?

Don't be swayed by rhetoric. Let every one's voice be heard!


Brenda said…
The writer has side-stepped the real problem. The issue is not whether or not politicians can be bought, but whether or not wealthy entities can buy undue influence.

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