January 28, 2016
Ever get the feeling that things have gotten a little crazy in politics? The good news is that you’re not alone. This election cycle has produced more than its fair share of bizarre events, “did they really just say that?” moments, and head-smacking exchanges, not to mention unimaginably huge heaps of unregulated campaign cash, and lots of people have taken notice.
Unfortunately, the bad news is that things have gotten even crazier than you may realize.
We thought it might be useful/depressing/educational/horrifying/darkly hilarious to make a brief list of the most ridiculous things about money and politics in 2016.
This is by no means an exhaustive survey of all the campaign-funding crazy that’s out there, but it’s a nice introduction to a year that’s sure to be unlike any other.
This Presidential Election is Costing Big Bucks
It’s estimated that something like $5 billion will be spent on the 2016 presidential campaigns, nearly doubling what was spent in 2012. But what does that mean? How can we understand how much five billion really is? Well, according to one estimation, a stack of one billion one-dollar bills would reach 67.9 miles high. Which means that five billion bills would top out at 339.5 miles, or at about the level of the ionosphere. You could climb that stack to the International Space Station, or use it to leap onto an orbiting satellite. It also buys a ton of TV ads. In other words, $5 billion is a lot of money.
Those Bucks Come From Very Few People...
There are about 120 million households in the United States. So take a moment and try to wrap your head around this fact: As of October 2015, just 158 families have spent $176 million on the 2016 presidential election. That's nearly half of all the money raised so far. 158 vs. 120 million. And the story hasn’t been all that different in other recent elections. What are the odds that those few families (most of whom made their money in finance and fossil fuels) share the interests and priorities of the overwhelming majority of American households? No democracy can thrive, or even survive, when such a microscopic percentage of the population is calling the shots.
And Other Outside Groups with Their Own Agendas
But don’t worry! It’s not just unfathomably wealthy individuals and families seeking to buy candidates, tip the scales, and rig the system. As it turns out, super PACs, special-interest groups and others are also spending money at unheard-of rates. During this election, which, hard as it is to believe, is nowhere near over, outside spending has been skyrocketing. This deluge of contributions, from individuals, corporations, super PACs, etc., is the direct result of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling. It’s not that campaign finance wasn’t a problem before then, but at least there was some semblance of accountability. Now all this “dark money” flows into the election unmonitored and undisclosed. Which is why we need campaign reform now.
The Candidates With the Most Money Usually Win
It will perhaps not shock you that the candidates who rake in the most dough tend to win elections. But what’s the problem? Citizens United has declared that signing a giant check over to a politician is essentially a form of protected free speech, so that must mean that whoever raises the most money simply has the most support, right? Well, no. Remember how just a few über-rich households in America are responsible for a disproportionate amount of political contributions? When big money fills campaign coffers (especially now that national groups are targeting local contests more frequently), the interests of the majority of ordinary citizens get pushed to the side.
As Do Policies with the Most Financial Backing
Although many of our leaders would like to deny it, dropping a few bags of money on a politician’s desk remains a pretty effective way to grab his or her attention. OK, OK, that’s ridiculous: hardly anybody carries cash around in bags anymore. And besides, thanks to the Supreme Court, we all know that money = speech. Still… while all speech may technically be equal under the law, paper-clipping a massive check to a letter discussing your congressperson’s upcoming vote would, it stands to reason, make your speech substantially more influential. In fact, recent research supports this, indicating that donations have a powerful effect on the legislative process. Which is to say, of course, that elite donors, and their pro-wealth, pro-business agendas, have a corrupting influence on politics.
So the 2016 election is crazy. But what can we do? Well, the truth is that lots and lots of people in this country, and even a good number of politicians, are sick and tired of business as usual. Many states have passed resolutions showing their support for an amendment that would overturn Citizens United. So sign this petition and get to work where you live: Tell your elected leaders that democracy works best when everyone has a chance to be heard.
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