The fundamental disconnect in our political system between our elected officials and those they represent is so large that it threatens the great democratic institution we call America.
The disconnect stems from the unlimited amount of corporate campaign financing that floods through the system every election cycle. We must drastically reform the campaign financing structure to not only limit the amount of money that a candidate can raise and spend in any given election, but how that money is acquired. The amount and sources of money have corrupted our electoral system, and failing to remove the ever-present influence peddling from the political system will only lead to a further entrenchment of power and influence in the hands of the moneyed elite.
Look at the amount of money involved in a presidential election. This is the first time and, unfortunately without action, not the last time where some political insiders are projecting that a single candidate running for president of the United States could very well raise close to $1 billion. Even local elections these days require that a serious contender raise upwards of six-figure sums. To be a successful candidate, you can no longer rely on the $10 or $20 per person grassroots donations, but rather on massive corporate contributions. Therefore, before a candidate even takes office, he owes his loyalty to the highest corporate bidder. Yet we wonder why politicians pay little to no attention to the voters they are supposed to represent.
Candidates are raising an absurd amount of campaign funding from unscrupulous industries, and it is only getting worse. Take, for example, Congressman John Boehner, who handed out checks from the tobacco industry on the floor of the House just minutes before a vote on - you guessed it - tobacco subsidies. So what was Congressman Boehner's punishment for such a public display of venality? Other than rising to the speakership of the House, not a thing.
It goes without saying that such behavior, while not always on display for all to see, happens without interference every day. Unfortunately, this type of behavior crosses the entire landscape of the political system and has permeated into local and state offices including judicial elections in some states.
So what can we do about it? This phrase almost exclusively follows any discussion on influence peddling in the electoral process. We do not lack solutions to such a problem; we merely lack the political willpower. Therefore, as concerned citizens, it falls upon us to pressure local, state and federal officials to adopt sweeping campaign finance reform. One such measure might be capping the total amount of money that any one individual can raise outside of individual donations. Another option lies in public financing where candidates raise a set amount of money capped at $100 to qualify for public funding to run in both the primary and general election. This would effectively take large corporate and ideological interest group funding out of politics and force candidates to campaign closer to the electorate. Ultimately, that is what an election should come down to. It should not be a race to see who can raise the most money from the wealthiest industries, but instead should be a campaign of competing ideas.
Such campaign reforms, whatever form they take, would ensure a return of responsible government by the people, for the people. It would restore control of our democracy to the people, and end the gridlock that so often occurs when you have big business interest on one side and union interest on the other with both spending millions on candidates to fight out their ideological battle at the highest levels of government with absolutely nothing being accomplished in the interest of the country.
Nigel E. Jeffries