Influence of Money on Politics
Kah Ying Choo
In 1995, an independent study
commissioned by the Congress determined that no more B-2 bombers should
be built in 1995. At the cost of $493 million per plane, the B-2
bombers were costly. Furthermore, the Pentagon had declared that
they did not want any more B-2 bombers. However, one year later, members
of the Congress voted to allocate funding to build another B-2 bomber.
Why did members of the Congress agree to this needless expenditure?
One possible reason: The political action committee (PAC) of Northrup
Grumman, the builder of B-2 bombers, donated $320,775 to members of
Congress in 1995. This amount was twice the sum given to Congress
in 1993 and 1994. In fact, when another bill was proposed to
eliminate funding from the B-2 in June 1996, Northrup Grumman gave
another $75,200 to finance campaigns of members of the Congress
(Beaulieu, 1996, p. 15).
This incident testifies to our politicians’
excessive financial dependence on well-endowed donors.
More importantly, it demonstrates how these donors have played a
significant role in shaping public policy. By paying substantial
amounts of money to politicians, corporations and rich individuals have
been able to gain direct access to political representatives and lobby
effectively for their causes. Concomitantly, low-income and poor
people who do not offer financial contributions do not have the
opportunity to voice their opinions on behalf of their issues (Beaulieu,
1996, p. 15).
||According to Public
Campaign (2000), an organization that is dedicated to the creation of a
public financing system, 80 percent of donors who contributed $200 or
more had an annual family income of more than $100,000 a year, with five
percent having an income of $50,000 or less in 1996. Therefore, even
|household with at total income of $100,000 or more constitute 12
percent of the total number of households in the U.S., 80 percent of
these households exert the greatest influence on public policy.
The Center for Responsive Politics also reports that almost 70 percent
of the PAC contributions in the 2000 election stems from business
interests, 21 percent from labor and 11 percent from other groups (in
Public Campaign, 2000, p. 5).
Research studies have also revealed that money
donors do not donate large sums of money for altruistic
reasons or affirmation of their political beliefs. Based on a
survey of donors in the 1996 presidential elections, Francia and others
(1999) report that 76 percent of the respondents stated that their
primary reason for donating to political candidates was to shape
government policies. A 2000 poll conducted by Lake Snell Perry and
Associates involving 1,000 voters and 200 donors also revealed that 54
percent of the donors spoke directly to a major elected official
compared to nine percent of the voters (Lake & Borosage, 2000, p. 2).
Therefore, it is evident that money exerts a significant impact in
determining which political constituents are heard by their political
representatives. These studies demonstrate clearly that the donor
class that represents only a minority of the nation has considerably
more latitude in influencing government policy than the majority of the
population in the nation.
The following section offers a sampling of
concrete examples of how the Congress has been influenced by
their donors and acted in accordance with their interests.
Industry: Only after the tragedy involving Firestone tires on
Ford Explorers that resulted in the deaths of over 100 people did
Congress finally decide to update the 30-year-old standards for tires in
October 2000. Auto safety experts believe that the long overdue
legislation to improve tire standards is insufficient in providing
genuine safety to the public. As Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook
puts it, “Congress passed a face-saving bill for industry, not a
life-saving bill for the public” (qtd. in Public Campaign, 2000, p. 6).
One of the primary reasons for Congress’ protective stance towards the
auto industry is that it has contributed over $12 million to political
campaigns in 2000, up from nearly $11 million in 1998 (Public Campaign,
2000, p. 6).
● Telecommunications: Passed in
1996, the Telecommunications Act
was touted by Congress as a means to increase competition in the
industry, decrease prices and improve service for the public. In
reality, the new legislation essentially deregulates the industry, thus
enabling large telecommunication corporations to merge with one another
and increase prices at the expense of the public.
Telecommunications corporations contributed $3.5 million to members of
the Congress in 1995. The two most enthusiastic supporters of the
new legislation, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Larry Pressler who
received $103,165 from telecom PACs and House Telecommunications and
Finance Subcommittee Chairman Jack Fields who received $97,500, were the
two chief beneficiaries of the corporations’ generosity (Beaulieu, 1996,
● Ergonomics: In response to rising
injuries in work environments because of increasing
mechanization, President Clinton established new workplace safety
regulations on ergonomics. However, in March 2001, the new
regulations were repealed with voting results that followed the party
lines. This reversal of policies can be attributed to campaign
contributions. During the 2000 elections, corporations exceeded
the contributions of labor leaders by a ratio of 1,000:1 (Public
Campaign, 2001, p. 12).
In spite of the democratic principles of the
American political system, politicians cannot be considered
to be true representatives of their people. It is little wonder
that American voters and donors concur that politicians are not governed
by their political beliefs. Rather, their opinions and behavior
are heavily influenced by the vast resources of their political
contributors (Lake & Borosage, 2000, pp. 1-2). Even more
significantly, these politicians are not representative of their
constituents when they lend their ears solely to those who can pay.
The reduction of federal taxes for corporations from 39 percent in the
1950s to 17 percent in the 1980s is symptomatic of the political clout
of business interests. Similarly, the failure of Congress to pass
a health-care reform bill for many years reflects the capacity of
wealthy contributors to sabotage legislations that will genuinely
improve the quality of health care for ordinary Americans (Beaulieu,
1996, p. 18). Unless political reforms occur to sever the
connection between politicians and big business interests, Americans
will continue to lose their trust and faith in the political system.
Beaulieu, D. (1996, October). The public
should finance election campaigns. U.S. Catholic, 61(10), 15-20.
Francia, P.L., Goldberg, R.E., Green, J.C., Herrnson, P.S., & Wilcox, C.
(1999). Individual donors in the 1996 federal elections. In J.C.
Green (Ed.), Financing the 1996 Election (pp. 127-154). Armonk:
Lake, C., & Borosage, R. (2000, August 2). Money talks. In The
Nation.com [Online], 1-5. Available:
http://past.thenation.com/e2k/recent/poll.shtml [2002, January 23].
Public Campaign. (2000, October). Hard facts: Hard money in the 2000
elections. [Online], 1-10. Available:
www.publicampaign.org/hardmoney.html [2002, January 23].
Public Campaign. (2001, March). Why the battle over hard money
matters: Hard facts on hard money. [Online], 1-14. Available:
www.publicampaign.org/hardfacts/ [2002, January 23].
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