If there's any part of you that remains hopeful about what national political systems or government can do for the average resident of this country, I invite you to have your soul crushed by this excellent and compelling hour of reporting from This American Life about the incredible role money plays in U.S. politics and governance today.
Some of the stories and interviews are in and of themselves shocking, but the general theme probably doesn't feel like anything new or surprising: money powers political considerations, political considerations determine who has money. For me, the compelling parts were the simple narratives and examples of just how much time and energy the people who ostensibly represent U.S. citizens spend thinking about and raising money, and what distasteful things they have to do as a part of that.
I also appreciated the reminder that for the most part, this system is able to continue because voters can't be bothered to hold their representatives accountable to a higher standard. However hard we might try to pretend lawmakers are trying to do the right thing or that our systems of government are only incrementally worsening, it really is a wonder that the country isn't perpetually in flames. (See how cheery I am after listening, don't you want to join me?)
Thanks to Andrea Seabrook (Earlham College class of 1996) and Alex Blumberg for some really absorbing, eye-opening, depressing stuff. We ignore it at our own peril.
2 thoughts on “Take the money and run for office”
David Cay Johnston's book "Perfectly Legal" deals with this issue, though kind of obliquely -- the very wealthy "political donor class" (as he calls them) influence political campaigns through heavy donations and promotion, and in return the politicians are somewhat beholden to those individuals and not doing things to upset them (ie. raising their taxes).
The other side of this, of course, is when government officials vacate their public office to work for lobbying firms, as former Senator Dodd did, when he left his Senate post and became the figurehead of the MPAA's lobbying arm. It's an attractive proposal, especially considering that lobbying salaries will typically be 5-10x what the public sector people make while in office; for some, public office becomes a stepping stone to a sweet private sector gig, rather than an end, in and of itself.
It's not so much the money, as the power we allow our elected officials to possess. But hang on Chris, help is on the way! 🙂