Wealth is an Undue Influence in Elections

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citizens-united-1By: Jenna Marcus

When one thinks of America, perhaps they think of the freedom and democracy that this country was founded upon (supposedly). Americans have always prided themselves upon the principles of equality and justice that they believe government to operate by. However, it is becoming more and more apparent that this may not always be the case (in more ways than one); this being no exception when examining the tactics used by certain candidates, corporations, and economic elites in the upcoming election.

For a long time, powerful corporations and wealthy individuals have had an overwhelming influence in the American electoral process. However, with the victory of the Citizens United case in the Supreme Court in 2010, corporations won the ability to spend unlimited sums of money in support of candidates who will represent their interests if elected. In a 5-4 ruling, it was decided unconstitutional that the government restrict corporations from spending on elections, greatly changing the amounts they are able to contribute and ultimately giving ruthless corporations the same rights as individual Americans. After its introduction, former President Jimmy Carter voiced the worrisome criticism, “Now America is just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nomination for president. We’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election is over.”

As the influence of these corporations increase, America is beginning to see a pattern of the rich getting richer at the expense of the middle class. Through corporations’ tax evasion, outsourcing to low wage countries, lobbying, aggressive anti-union campaigns, share manipulation, funding of politicians, scandals, and more, the middle class is gradually declining, causing the gap between the rich and poor to widen. “Whether it is Wall Street, the oil companies, the coal companies, the insurance companies, the drug companies, the military-industrial complex; all of these very powerful and wealthy special interests contribute huge amounts of money into the political process, making it harder and harder for the significant needs of working families to be heard outside the power of big money,” expressed Vermont senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

This upcoming election is certainly no exception to these dirty practices. This is no secret if you examine the major donors of each candidate. Six out of ten of Hillary Clinton’s donations come from banks. Her large donor contributions amount to an astounding $38,840,036 as of August 2015, and millions more from other Super PACs. Jeb Bush’s top contributors include insurance companies, banks, and other large corporations, and has raised $103,000,000 from just 9,900 different donors, as of July. The list goes on.

What exactly does all this mean for the average American? Aside from longer hours and less pay, a shocking study done by political science professors Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University found that ordinary Americans have virtually no impact on national policies; a “non significant, near-zero level”. Instead, they discovered that America, the quintessential democracy, is controlled significantly by rich individuals and business controlled interest groups. By lobbying and making donations, representatives of a company meet senators and other politicians to inform them about the goals of their industry, convincing officials to make decisions in favor of the company or expecting them to once they get in office.

The study also disproves the idea that the policy interests of the rich and corporations align with the views of common citizens, finding that they actually sharply diverge and that these economic elites almost always win while the ordinary Americans lose.

So, what exactly can ordinary Americans do to fight against this corruption? It is extremely important that the middle and lower class vote! Studies have shown that more affluent Americans vote in a much higher proportion than the less affluent, and that the electoral turnout is highly correlated with economic standing. Make sure to inform yourself about each candidate, their tactics, history, views, policies, and who exactly they’re representing. Another reason for the dominance of the wealthy and corporations is the decreasing participation of ordinary citizens in grassroots movements in recent decades. It is important to support and raise awareness about these movements because often times, if a large enough number of Americans protest and demand change, politicians are pressured to address these issues, which at the very least can spark important conversation. Although PACs and super-PACs are able to donate huge sums of money, if more Americans contribute modest sums, common interests can be represented. For the future of this country, its inhabitants, and democracy, it is imperative that we do not ignore this injustice.

 

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