Money is the root of all evil, some say. Money plays the major role in the outcome of elections. Money, via lobbyists, determines which laws and regulations are enacted and which aren’t. And, money seeps into the very core of our nation by manipulating the nation’s values. It does that by controlling the media, which controls the message. It has been this way since the beginning. As a historian, I understand that when we fail to learn from history, we repeat it. I prefer learning over repeating.
A critical reading of history shows that moneyed interests have long shaped our policies by shaping our national beliefs. Case in point: It was the merchant class that wanted independence from the crown because the tax and tariff policies of King George were cutting into their profits. Farmers and workers were not directly affected. Unwilling to fight themselves, the merchant class persuaded farmers and laborers to do the fighting for them.
Using newspapers for those who could read, and criers for those who couldn’t, they quoted notable authors of the time and touted key words like self-determination, democracy, freedom, and independence. Soon, it was seen as the patriotic duty of nearly every colonist to revolt against the King. Those farmer-patriots were too busy fighting to notice that the wealthy were not in the front lines with a few exceptions like George Washington.
Granted, we are better off because of the Revolution, but the rich privilege back then set a scary precedent for our nation.
Most Americans do not realize how money is shaping our national belief system. Money elects our law makers and public officials and money enacts our laws. Big money in politics ensures that the citizen does not have a chance.
How Much Money is Spent on Political Campaigns?
Here are the shocking numbers. In 2016, total spending on federal campaigns (not counting state and local) was $6,511,181,587 according to Open Secrets.org, who tracks electoral spending. Yes, that is 6.5 billion. Of that, $2,386,876,712 was spent on the presidential race, and $4,124,304,874 on Congressional races. In 2018, $5,725,182,587 was spent just on Congressional races. That is over $12 billion in just four years. Did we get our money’s worth?
Furthermore, the Open Secrets data shows that money in politics works. In 2016, Republicans won the presidency, the House of Representatives, and the US Senate. In that election., 95.4% of the House candidates who spent the most money won; 85.3% of the top spenders won Senate races. In 2018, Democrats won the House and 88.8% of the top spenders also won. Republicans won the Senate and 85.3% of the top spenders were the ones that won. So far in the 2020 race, a year off, spending will make 2016 look like an austerity program.
It seems like once a candidate gets elected to Congress, they spend the rest of their life there. True because incumbents out-spend their challengers. Incumbents in the Senate last election raised and spent $533,450,533 whereas their challengers raised and spent just $350,828,478. In the House, incumbents spent $729,576,500 versus challengers who spent $393,512,358. Money is often not ideological; it is who will do the most for me.
How Much Money is in Political Lobbying?
After the elections, special interests spend additional billions a year to lobby members of Congress. In 2018, there were 16,655 paid lobbyists and the cost was $3,468,000,000 just for lobbying Congress. There are hardly enough zeros to add in the money spent lobbying state legislatures, county commissions, and city governments.
To make matters worse, these lobbyists are some of the major contributors to campaigns, especially incumbents. So, who do you think is going to get a meeting with an elected official—the lobbyist who gave him a 5 or 6 figure contribution and several vacations, or the average voter from his home state who sent in a $25 check? Rhetorical question.
Money Shapes our National Beliefs
Perhaps the most damaging long-term impact on our democracy is the influence money plays in shaping our collective thinking and re-shaping our values. Money shapes our national values by controlling the message. The wealthy and corporations control the message because they control the media, not just the news, but the message in the programming and in the “apps” as well.
Billionaires and corporations on both the right and the left are trying to shape national thinking to suit their purpose—profit. Self-interest is a much greater motivator than altruism. If the average American is ever going to live under a true government by the people, they first must realize find a way collectively to get money out of politics.