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This past weekend, The New York Times released an article exposing the 158 families who have funded roughly half of the 2016 presidential campaigns so far. These families “are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male,” the authors of the investigation asserted, and they are controlling the government.
Since it emerged as a nation, the United States has been known as a land of freedom and democracy. We the people have the sovereign rights to think independently, act independently and elect representatives we deem to be the most fit to protect the interests of the majority. However, when these representatives are largely funded by the economic elite, it is questionable who the government will truly aim to please.
This is not to say money has not, until recently, been a factor in politics. In fact, the history of campaign funding is as long as it is complex, as one would expect in a capitalist country designed to allow a free market to flourish. However, there is little need to trace it much further back than the Cold War era for us to clearly see the problem of big money in politics. In 1943, the concept of a political action committee (PAC) was established, which provided the means for organizations to raise funds for politicians they wanted to see take office. Then came Nixon’s Watergate scandal in 1972, after which it was determined that something should be done about corruption in politics.
The regulations put into place following Watergate did not last for long. By the 1990s, corruption once again became an issue in politics, and efforts to address the issue have effectively been wiped away. Mere PACs became limitless super PACs following the 2010 Citizens United decision, and 2012 saw the most expensive elections in history — a record that is expected to be broken in 2016.
When political campaigns devolve into money games, problems result from the fact that the average member of the economic elite does not relate to the average voter of the general public. As the Times investigation showed, they are largely Republican, self-made millionaires who do not want to see any limits placed on their ability to amass more wealth. A prime example is the Koch brothers, who plan to spend around 900 million dollars in 2016 campaign contributions, a sum that matches the financial efforts of both the Democratic and Republican parties.
While all voters will certainly have a say in who the next president will be, those with the most wealth may have more of a say than others. They have the power to greatly influence which candidates will make it past the primaries and onto the general election ballot. And research shows that once a candidate is elected, they tend to make or preserve policies that serve the interests of this exclusive and unrepresentative group.
We the people have the constitutional right to a representative democracy. It is the basis from which all other American ideals are built upon, and the only thing that ensures that the voice we are all given is effectively heard. The money game in politics is not only the antithesis of these ideals, it is causing the nation to shift from a democracy to an oligarchy.
We pride ourselves on being a country by the people and for the people, but until stronger regulations are placed upon the level of influence the economic elite can have upon government, this statement does not hold true. How long are we willing to exist as a nation where the voice of many is overshadowed by the wealth of few?
Contact CU Independent Staff Opinion Columnist Emily McPeak at firstname.lastname@example.org.