The problem of big money in politics is one of the most pressing problems we face because it disrupts the fundamental relationship between Americans and our elected officials. Consider the following comparison of how our democracy is supposed to work versus how it actually works.
How Our Democracy Is Supposed To Work
Step 1: We Elect Representatives Who Will Best Represent Our Interests
Every election, We The People should be able to choose our representatives out of a pool of dedicated and capable candidates. These candidates should be deeply committed to public service and their campaigns should give us a strong sense of where they stand on the important issues. In addition, because public service is supposed to be one of our nation’s most honorable professions, these candidates should be men and women of the highest integrity.
Step 2: Those Representatives Pass Laws That Best Serve Our Interests
Once elected, our representatives’ job is clear: represent us. Though they must listen to a diverse array of constituents, become experts on a variety of issues, and balance competing interests, at the end of the day our representatives are supposed to pass laws that benefit the community they represent as a whole.
Step 3: We Pay Attention, Re-Elect Good Representatives, and Get Rid of the Bad Ones
We The People have a job to do as well. We need to stay informed and keep an eye on how well our representatives are doing their job. If they are truly representing our interests, we can re-elect them until they move on or we find someone we like better. If they don’t effectively represent our interests we can elect someone else who will.
The way our government is supposed to work is clear. Public servants do what is in our best interests and we do our part by being active and engaged citizens. But big money in politics has disrupted that process from beginning to end and the results have been disastrous. As a result, today our democracy works more like this:
How Our Democracy Actually Works
Step 1: We Elect Representatives Who Are Already Dependent On and Beholden to Big Money
In most state or federal elections, candidates must raise massive amounts of money to even be competitive. As a result, most candidates cozy up to corporations, unions, and ultra-wealthy individuals to fund the bulk of their campaigns. Many potentially good candidates are deterred from running altogether. Although We The People still technically elect our representatives, the choice is no longer entirely ours because big money prematurely narrows down the initial pool of candidates to only those candidates who are willing and able to raise enough money to mount a viable campaign.
Step 2: Those Representatives Pass Laws That Disproportionately Benefit Their Funders
Once in office representatives who depended on big money to succeed pass laws with a keen awareness of what their major donors want. Rather than solely considering the interests of their constituents, legislators must be aware of how their vote on any single piece of legislation will affect their campaign contributions in the next election cycle. As a result, many pieces of legislation clearly favor a specific business, union, or special interest group at the expense of the community as a whole.
In addition, due to the need for huge campaign war chests, legislators spend an enormous amount of their time fundraising rather than working on critical issues and serving their constituents. According to one estimate, Congressional representatives spend 30 hours a week raising money! When our representatives are spending that much time fundraising and even more time meeting with or catering to their biggest donors, We The People are the ones left out.
Step 3: We Become Disenchanted and Re-Elect Underwhelming Representatives
Due to the influx of big money in politics, many of us don’t feel like our elected officials are doing the job we selected them to do. As a result, we become less involved in politics or stop paying attention completely. We may know that our local representatives are not truly representing our interests but we often re-elect them anyway because we can’t find anyone better.
Year after year of political gridlock, dishonesty, and a lack of progress on important issues takes its toll. So many of us begin to tune out because following politics is simply too depressing and we no longer feel that our involvement matters. That is perhaps the ultimate price we pay due to big money in politics; it makes us stop believing that we truly can make a difference.
As a result of big money in politics, our government does not truly work for us anymore. That’s why we must address big money in politics before we can confront many of the other major challenges we face.
Fortunately, if We The People work together we can strike a major blow against big money in politics and take the first step toward reclaiming our democracy. Learn more about The Solution that will help make our government responsive to We The People once again.