Most people are aware about the money in politics that is out in the open. Not everyone realizes how hidden money is spent to ensure that the system works the way the big spenders want it to.
Campaign contributions are in the billions
Everyone knows campaigns spend money. Robo calls, mailings, and commercials are not free. In 2016, the presidential and Congressional campaigns alone raised and spent $6.5 billion dollars. In 2018, $5.7 billion dollars were spent just on Congressional elections. Add the money spent electing governors, state legislators, state offers, mayors and city and county officials. These rival the budget of many states.
A study of the costs of governors races between 1977 and 2010 discovered that in each election, the average amount spent on gubernatorial campaigns has been rising steadily. In 2010, the average amount spent on a governor’s race was $24.88 million dollars. Take that times 50 states, and it amounts to $1.24 billion dollars. Then there are legislative races. Politico did a study of the state Senate races in New York state. They found that $60 million is spent to elect members of the state senate, an average of $2.4 million per seat.
Lobbying expenditures top the revenue of many large corporations
Once politicians are elected, the job just begins. The next step is persuading them how to vote. In 2018, Open Secrets.org found that $3.5 billion dollars was spent on lobbying Congress. That is in addition to all the money spent in the 50 states to lobby state legislators. The sum total of annual lobbying expenditures rivals the net worth of many firms listed on the stock exchange.
Here’s the rest of the story. Spending on campaigns and lobbying is only part of the story. In addition, a lot of indirect money is spent to influence policy and tilt public discussion in favor of the positions the organizations support.
Political Money is Hidden in “Research” Organizations
These politically helpful organizations exist on the right and the left. Many of these are called “think tanks.” To be clear, there are many legitimate research organizations, staffed by non-political scholars, that do tremendous work. Their work is very valuable. They use science to develop facts and data, regardless of who the data helps or hurts. Their reputation is clouded, and their voice often muted by noise from the faux organizations set up to influence policy in a particular direction. They do not search for facts, but for arguments supporting their pre-determined conclusions.
There are many examples of political operatives posing as legitimate scientists. The most glaring examples are in the climate change debate. For the last several decades, over 96% of all scientists have provided research and evidence concluding that the earth is warming, and the actions of man is primarily to blame. They conclude that greenhouse emissions are the main cause of global warming, and most of those emissions come at the hand of man.
Despite this, a few “scientists”, nearly all who work for, or are funded by, the oil and gas industry, claim there is no evidence man is involved. These few voices give talking points to politicians who say things like “scientists are divided on climate change” or “scientists have not concluded that man is to blame.” Some even say that the climate isn’t changing.
This is not the first time such tactics were used to muddy the waters. During the debate over smoking, tobacco companies employed “scientists” to claim that there really is no evidence smoking causes cancer. For a long time, they prevented legislators from acting, but eventually, the preponderance of real science drowned out their paid political announcements.
Interestingly enough, some of those same “scientists” are now working for the oil and gas industry and claim that the science on climate change is not proven.
These organizations are really tax-exempt political organizations. One can spot them because they always conclude results on the same side of all political issues. They are usually funded by hyper-partisan individuals or corporations. And, their spokespersons are usually former members of Congress. They exist on the right and the left. Bottom line is, they often mislead the public, and they facilitate the work of special interests, not good policy.
This is not how democracy should work
Clearly, this is not what the founders envisioned. This is not how democracy should work. Money in politics is omnipresent, but it gives too much power to the wealthy and huge special interests. Against this, the citizen does not stand a chance, unless citizens force change.