Both Republicans and Democrats Hate Money in Politics — So Why is it Still a Problem?

Republican and democratic members of the population (aka, “average Americans”) believe one thing, and that republican and democratic lawmakers (aka, “politicians”) believe another. In a 2016 poll, Eighty-one percent of Democratic and 79 percent of Republican respondents (look at how similar those numbers are) said they wanted their members of congress to work with their opposing party to reduce the influence of money in politics. 80% of all respondents (and, 90% of those over 55) believed that the ability for money to influence politics was worse than it had ever been in their lifetime.

So, why hasn’t anything been done about this?

In a functioning democracy, it should be pretty simple to pass laws that 80% of the population support, and yet this has proven not to be the case. As Jason Stanley reports in his book How Propaganda Works:

[T]he Supreme Court, in two decisions, in 2010 and 2014, essentially eliminated campaign finance reform. Even before this, Lessig reports, politicians in Congress spent 70 percent of their time not on legislation, but on raising campaign funds.

Jason Stanley, How Propaganda Works

This points to a *very* deep problem, a rot in the foundation of our democracy itself. When it comes to issues of money it is impossible for the public to assert its will on legal policy. This happens a few ways:

  1. Functional collusion between republicans and democrats on the issues of finances. Although democrats have historically paid lip service to standing up to “big business”, over the past decade they have failed to do this in any practical way. The democrats oversaw the passing of many pro-corporation, laws like the bank bailouts, and many of them have big-business and wall-street lobbyists financially backing them. This corporate backing leads to them passing pro-business laws, despite their superficial egalitarian claims.
  2. Intentionally obscuring the true nature of the laws being passed, through confusing wording or messaging around it. For instance, 80% of Americans believed campaign finance laws were corrupt, or would of had the purpose of “helping current congress members get reelected.” (Jason Stanley, How Propaganda Work). Actually, these laws were in place to set limits on how much individuals could contribute to a campaign, and these limits were removed in 2014. But, there was enough confusion about what the law meant that many people didn’t object, because they believed a corrupt law was being removed.
  3. Only allowing people who are able to raise massive sums of money to run for congress. This isn’t a legal requirement, but has historically been a functional requirement. Elections are so expensive, that only the very rich — or people with connections to them — have been able to run for political office. This mean, naturally, that the interests of the rich are prioritized by politicians, because they are either rich themselves, or need to rely on the rich to get re-elected.

But of course, times, they are a changing. With the power of the internet, there has been a fundamental shift in how information has been delivered — a shift that could lead to a new type of politician being elected.

I’m currently volunteering to help Shahid Buttar in his campaign to be the San Francisco congressman in the House of Representatives.

Shahid for Change Facebook

He’s a highly progressive candidate, and I support many of his issues. However, for me the biggest one is his stance against corporate interest groups, and his commitment to ensuring the integrity of the democratic system itself. He has additionally pledged not to accept any donations from PACs as part of this commitment. I believe the fundamental nature of our democracy, the ability for the people to pass laws for the benefit of the people, is at risk due to the political weight money carries right now.

In his own words, Shahid describes why he’s running:

“I’m running for Congress because I can’t watch America’s constitutional crisis from the sidelines.”

“Our shared struggle pits We the People of the United States against a corrupt corporate establishment that dominates not only Republicans, but also Democrats — like the one who has represented San Francisco for over 30 years.”

Our current goals for the campaign are for him to do well enough in the San Francisco primaries on June 5th that he can challenge Nancy Pelosi in the main election in November. Unfortunately, some of the challenges he faces are endemic to the corruption of the system itself; Pelosi is one of the wealthiest members of congress, and has significant corporate backing. She is not only symbolic of corporate corruption, but has been an active participant and proponent of it for decades.

But, there is a new wind coming from over the horizon. Shahid is joining the ranks of other progressive San Francisco candidates, like Gayle McLaughlinwho is running for Lieutenant Governor, who are looking to reign in the power of corporate money.

If you feel so inclined and wanted to help us out in some ways, you could like his facebook page or follow him on twitter, you could check out his website and see if he’s someone you’d like to vote for or come to a rally on May 25th (if you live in SF), or you could consider donating to his campaign. Because he’s running a very grass-roots campaign, even small donations go a long way.

And finally, regardless of your political affiliation or physical location, I hope you’ll consider “getting money out of politics” to be one of your voteable issues this election cycle. This is a big issue, and I believe (and hope!) we will start seeing some republican candidates take up this cause as well. We are hitting unprecedented levels of corruption, and it will take bipartisan cooperation to fix this problem.

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