Our democracy is broken.
The American people have lost all confidence that their government actually represents their interests. If you were to ask 100 Americans whether they trusted the U.S. government to do the right thing most of the time, you would hear “yes” only 18 times. The vast majority of the people in this country feel like their voices aren’t being heard in Washington.
They’re right. They’re not being heard. But I am.
I talk to politicians and lawmakers all the time, and they eagerly seek out my input on policy decisions they’re contemplating. I don’t even have to call them anymore. They call me. Just the other day, I was planning to call a few senators to tell them how I felt about a particular vote, but in the time it took me to gather my thoughts about what I should say to them, two of the target senators called me themselves. I get all this access for one simple reason: money.
I’m a wealthy person, and I spend significant amounts of money on political candidates and campaigns. If you’re reading this, I almost certainly have more political access than you do. My voice matters more than yours. Does that make you mad? It should.
I may be benefiting from this system, but I’m not blind to how terrible it is. The power of money in politics is corrupting our government from within, and the American people are paying the price. And things are just getting worse.
This November’s round of elections is expected to be the most expensive midterm election in American history, meaning candidates and lawmakers are going to be even more reliant on people like me to fund their campaigns. And many funders have expectations of access when they send money, access they may use to lobby for their own business or personal pet issues.
As this cycle continues, lawmakers are only going to become more and more focused on the preferences of the ultra-wealthy, leaving the rest of their constituents without any real representation. We can already see it happening in Congress today, with the passage of a tax bill that makes inequality so much worse by reducing the taxes on millionaires and multinational corporations while giving the middle class virtually nothing.
Now, I may advocate for policies that I think are good for the country as a whole, not just myself, but on my way in and out of lawmakers’ offices, I pass many other donors like me – some of whom have a lot more money than me – who are only looking out for themselves. They fly to Washington in their private jets to advocate for a tax cut for their businesses, or to have a regulation for their industry lifted that would make them a lot of money, but would just happen to poison the water supplies of a few small towns.
You know whom I don’t pass in those halls? The people from those small towns that would be affected. Without money, or the access that comes with it, they simply don’t have a voice in this system, and they suffer because of it.
I think most politicians want to do the right thing, but if the only people they ever talk to are the wealthy businessmen telling them about how damaging those regulations are to business, then of course the lawmakers are going to think that the right thing to do is to help these “struggling” businesses create jobs. They don’t even realize that they’re receiving a couple letters or emails arguing that it’s a bad idea, and those that their staff tell them about barely register against countless personal conversations with business owners and lobbyists.
We’ve got a long way to go before the people can fully reclaim their government, but we don’t have to overturn Citizens United today – there are smaller steps people can advocate right now that will make a real difference.
Pressure candidates to no longer accept money from corporate PACs. Encourage lawmakers to support public funding of elections so that politicians don’t have to rely on wealthy donors. Push for stricter disclosure requirements, so donors and corporations can’t secretly spend millions influencing elections without putting their names and reputations on the line.
But above all else, stay angry and stay involved. The walls they’ve built up around the system can be toppled; all you need to do is push.
Morris Pearl currently serves as chair of the Patriotic Millionaires. Find out more at http://patrioticmillionaires.org.