Not that U.S. politicians can be bought or anything …

I’m a smug Canadian when it comes to political financing. Corporations, unions, and NGOs are not allowed to donate a penny to federal candidates or parties in Canada. Only regular Canadians can kick in and we are all restricted to donating no more than $1,000 a year to a candidate or a party.

Though we still have some improvements we could make to our system, we have successfully removed the distortions of “Big Money” from our politics. Every party in Ottawa would agree with that assessment. (It’s very much a different matter in provincial politics and I encourage Premiers Redford, Wall, McGuinty, etc. to do something about that.)

But in the U.S., billionaires, giant unions, and mega-corporations can spend hundreds of millions of dollars to warp the political process. There are literally no limits to the money that can be pushed into the system to push one agenda or another. Now, a U.S. Congressman — the longest-serving Congressman, as it turns out — is trying to do something about it. And law prof Lawrence Lessig sizes up his chances … 

Lessig’s excellent point:

the Framers of our Constitution gave us a “Republic.” By “a Republic,” they meant a “representative democracy.” And by “a representative democracy,” they meant a government that in the legislative branch at least was to be, as Federalist 52 describes it, “dependent upon the People alone.”

In the 225 years since, Congress has evolved a different dependence — a dependence not “upon the People alone” but increasingly, a dependence upon “the funders” of campaigns as well.

But here’s the obvious problem: “the Funders” are not “the People.” As I’ve written again and again, .26 percent of America gives more than $200 to any congressional candidate; .05 percent of America gives the maximum amount to any congressional campaign; .01 percent gives more than $10,000 in an election cycle; through February, .000063 percent of America — 196 citizens — gave close to 80 percent of Super PAC contributions. And according to U.S. PIRG and Demos, 1,000 citizens of the United States (or so we assume) have given more than 94 percent of Super PAC contributions so far.

No one could deny that politicians are “dependent” upon their funders…

 Now, if you want to get a really good sense of what money does in U.S. politics? Take an hour and listen to this trio of stories broadcast earlier this year on the NPR program This American Life. Congress-critters, lobbyists, and fundraisers all provide their own stories of how money screws things up in the U.S. Capitol. Great radio and great reporting.

2 thoughts on “Not that U.S. politicians can be bought or anything …”

  1. Very informative read. It would be interesting to know how the donations by unions and business entities break down.

  2. In my earlier comment I should have clarified that I was referring to donations at the provincial level.

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