Saturday, November 06, 2010

Show Me The Money!!!

I've been wanting to post something regarding the midterm election results but haven't yet settled on an angle. But as I scanned a few blogs and sites to see what other people are saying, I came upon a few comments at one of the lib sites on my blogroll that seems to be a big concern there. These comments revolve around money in politics and corporate influence and who's really running the show.

Now, my opinion is that if we are indeed being controlled by "big money" or some cabal of super wealthy industrialists/capitalists who pull the strings behind the scenes, making decisions as to who will sit in the White House and such, we are still responsible for this situation. We ultimately control everything by being engaged in the process or delegating that responsibility by our abdication of that control we possess. And I don't care how much money a few rich dudes have, they simply cannot control 300 million Americans in revolt. If they want to stay wealthy and in power, they can't piss us off.

That's the macro. The micro is that what these mythical figures want or don't want is not likely going to affect the destiny of the average American with the ambition to accumulate wealth of his own. There are far too many success stories for the contrary to be true. But they do provide convenient fall guys for those looking for someone to blame for their failure to succeed in this endeavor.

So, as one nutty commenter at this particular liberal blog whined about the stupidity of the electorate, very much as I had after the 2008 elections but without the substantive supporting evidence, the subject of money's influence seemed to be a part of their explanation for the sea change of this midterm. I decided to look for some stats regarding the source and destination of money in politics. In doing so, I came upon, a veritable cornucopia of such stats, info and articles on the subject.

Some of the info I found to be what I would expect. For example, most union money goes to Dems. This is no surprise. What I did find surprising is how often one finds sectors of industry giving equally to both parties.

But what I am most interested in learning, and rarely find without massive media focus when some situation is exposed for all to see, is just when and how the money is influencing anything. I may find that at OpenSecrets as I continue to peruse, but I don't think it's so easy to assume money's influence. That is, which came first, the money or the proposal? Did the money really bribe a politician, or did the politician's positions attract the money?

For example, in 2008, the site shows that the biggest recipient of donations from the American Federation of State, City and Municipal Employees was Barry and Hillary. Are they trying to persuade these two to work in favor of this federation, or does the federation donate because Barry and Hillary already work in a manner favorable to organizations like theirs? This isn't always clear but I suspect it is the latter. And thus, I don't have a problem with it. MY political donations ALWAYS go to those politicians that already mirror my own positions and interests. Why should it be a problem for groups of people to do the same? Indeed, without really trying, many large organizations, be they interest groups or corporations, are reflective of someone's position on one or more issues, even though that someone isn't a part of that org. or corp.

Most puzzling are those contributors that are shown to "on the fence" and give equal or near equal amounts to both parties. I would guess that they are trying to either influence everyone to their personal point of view or are just looking to support the political process.

But for those who worry about money in politics, I think there is no issue here unless it can be determined that a politician is plainly guilty of accepting money to enrich himself by supporting legislation he would otherwise not support on principle alone. Is it really money influencing politics if there are politicians who already favor the opinion of the contributor? The influence of money argument suggests that it is more common that politicians only get in the game for money for themselves and that they don't care about anything but money and power and that it is always the other party where this occurs. That just doesn't sound reasonable to me. Even if that were true, one would have to side with the prevailing attitudes to attract the votes to get to the money and power. I'm neither that cynical or conspiratorial.

Then, of course, are those who complain that they cannot compete with the big money, that it isn't fair for a single donor to contribute so much when we common folk haven't the funds to match. But this is a weak argument. If the position on a given issue is strong and properly articulated, if enough people support that position, how can money make a difference? A billion dollars of contributions doesn't vote. People vote. It still comes down to people being responsible for paying attention throughout the time between elections. It's not numbers of dollars that matters, it's numbers of informed voters. That will trump the influence of money every time.

1 comment:

Mark said...

I never could understand why corporations would donate to both sides in a campaign, but I'd have to assume it's because they want the politicians (whoever wins) to support them with tax breaks, favors, whatever. For corporations, it's all about the bottom line.

Seems to me, the fact that they give to both parties would suggest they are not attempting to influence the outcome, but rather, to insure that the outcome doesn't hurt them.