“Big-money outside groups have spent more than $143 million in the presidential race in the six months since any of them were required to reveal their donors,” the report found, and these outside groups have spent “nearly four times as much on ads in the presidential race as the candidates’ own campaigns.”
Politico observes that there are, however, two exceptions: “Republican front-runner Donald Trump and the surprisingly strong Democratic dark horse Bernie Sanders.”
The New York Times editorial board has also noted the rise of dark money:
“Since the Citizens United decision in January 2010, politicians have collected more than $500 million in dark money from phantom donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, with hundreds of millions more expected in the current campaign.”
Transparency is a key component of democracy. When secret networks, such as those established by the Koch brothers, are manipulating elections behind the scenes with no accountability, democracy becomes a mere comfort term completely devoid of content.
Many months ago, a New York Times investigation found that “158 families, along with companies they own or control, contributed $176 million” in the first stages of the 2016 presidential race. Moreover, these wealthy donors “are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male, in a nation that is being remade by the young, by women, and by black and brown voters.”
Presidential elections have, as a result of judicial rulings and an obscene lack of regulation, become glorified fundraising events. Instead of spending their time speaking to the people, candidates hold backroom meetings with billionaires, desperately hoping to court their favor.
They run advertisements, paid for by supposedly “independent” Super PACs, flaunting their credentials and attacking their opponents across the aisle. But they are all tied to the same game.
In a country where wealth and income inequality have reached astonishing levels, and in a country where astonishing wealth and income convert seamlessly into political influence, the people are left in the dust.
According to a recent analysis of tax data by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman found that, since 1970, “the average income for Americans in the bottom 90 percent now appears to have increased by 0.7 percent a year.”
On the other hand, as the Economic Policy Institute has documented, the 0.01% saw wage growth of 324.4% between 1979 and 2014.
In essence, our system has become “pay-to-play,” a system in which one dollar equals one vote, and those with the wealth are becoming increasingly fewer in number.
Members of Congress, consequentially, spend hours calling donors, attending expensive dinners, and holding events, with the hope of securing enough cash to retain their seats.
Such a scenario is a vulgar distortion of the principles American politicians claim to represent and hope to spread to the rest of the world.
As Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page wrote in their revealing investigation into who holds the most sway in American politics,
“In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”
The process of addressing these problems must begin with an accurate diagnosis: Many of our most influential politicians are beholden to the interests of organized wealth, and “American democracy” has become an oxymoron.
And, as John Dewey recognized, “As long as politics is the shadow cast on society by big business, the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance.”