Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Is this democracy?

US democracy: The power of money

Just how much does money distort the political process?

The US presidential elections in November 2012 are expected to become the most expensive in history. One estimate by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) goes as high as $11bn.


The vast majority of this political money has come from a handful of super-rich supporters of the Republican Party dwarfing the attempts by citizens, associations or labour unions to do the same.


Many on the right claim deregulating campaign financing as a victory for free speech whilst most on the left fear the changes are corrupting democracy.


"It's not even that a candidate is spending 30 or 40 per cent of his time raising money. It's that he's spending 30 or 40 or 50 or in some congressional contexts up to 70 per cent of their time raising money from the tiniest slice of the one per cent. Meaning they can't help but become especially sensitive to the needs or desires ... of the one per cent, and increasingly oblivious to the needs or concerns of the rest of the public."

- Professor Lawrence Lessig, director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard University

Controversial campaign funding rule changes brought in after a Supreme Court ruling in 2010 have opened the floodgates to billionaire donors with the potential to buy influence all the way to the White House.


The Citizens United ruling means that anyone can support a candidate with unlimited funding through the use of groups known as Super PACs (Political Action Committees) and some donors can keep their identity and the source of their money secret through similar organisations which have earned them the nickname 'Dark Money' groups.


The new system is rarely challenged in the mainstream media. Broadcasters benefit from all the spending on political advertising and news journalists use the adverts as a big source for their election stories. More