The 2008 election for all federal offices cost over $5 billion. The campaign finance for President alone cost over $1 billion. The election funding for the Presidential campaign and the election campaign funding for Congress are out of control. Those numbers alone should tell us what we need to do. We need to stop allowing money to determine who is elected to the Presidency and to Congress.
Last election, the People finally got mad. They got behind a former community organizer, a man who is half-African, not even half African-American. (His father’s family was apparently one of the fortunate not to be captured by slave traders.) They got behind then Senator Obama, a man whom the electorate perceived to be a man of the People.
He campaigned as a man who had credibility with the real people of this country, not the Washington establishment. We trusted him because he was a man who had voluntarily worked and lived in the inner city, he had seen the worst that our society can do to create an underclass. He had seen how we isolate them and offer them half-hearted attempts to jump-start livable comunities after three hundred years of being treated as second-class citizens. We see how they are the last to be hired and the first to be laid off.
That was of course after this specific group in our society had been dragged out of the jungle, shipped off to a Southern U.S. state to be told that they would be whipped or killed for simply learning to read. They lived in these conditions for over two hundred years. Then it was another one hundred years of being given second-class schooling, if any schooling at all.
African-American “negroes” could be hanged for the slightest perceived infraction of social rules that were developed to keep them in their place. Eventually, many would find their way out of an oppressive atmosphere to the North to places where they might at least no longer be treated as indentured servants. They would find places where, even though they might still be treated as second class citizens, they could find jobs and survive as human beings.
Then came the social revolution of the late 1950s and the 1960s, where the people the Northern states began to understand that the student at the next desk who happened to be black could catch up quickly and with the right opportunity rank at the top academically. Once we understood that some African-Americans could surpass us and the rest could match us grade for grade, we understood instinctively what had been going on for so long. We began to feel the injustice in our bones
By the late 20th Century, we had made some strides as a result of affirmative action and similar programs at the state and local levels. Our concern about African-Americans being put ahead of others gave way in most cases to pride in the fact that our country was at last living up to its stated but often neglected principles.
And then, in the early 21st Century, along came a powerful speaker, a dedicated legislator and Senator. Other Senators like John Kerry and Dick Durbin realized that Barack Obama was a man who might appeal to the vast majority of Americans, even though he would lose that small minority who were still stuck in the racist-hatred of the post-Civil War south. As unlikely as it seemed politically, an African-American could be President.
We all voted for him. Even people who didn’t said that they did and some who said they didn’t, did. Here was a man who volunteered to restore in a small way some of the pieces of a considerable residue left behind by our Great American Tragedy. Here was a man married to a woman whose parents fought through the uphill struggle, often through sheer force of will, to raise a daughter and a son who both vaulted into the middle class through enormous personal achievement.
So, now we have the President we need, and so how can he not succeed? Well, that is the wrong question. The question is just the opposite. How can he succeed? He must overcome the powerful interests who spent that $4 billion on Congress. He must do so with a bright but still less powerful group that he has assembled as President. The question is how he will be able to be the person we elected in the face of a Washington so well entrenched that even those of his own Party no longer fear the wrath of many of their own constituents. Here are just a couple of examples…of Democrats!
Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas is running behind in the polls relating to her 2010 campaign for re-election. But she seems not to care. She already has over $4 million in the bank and the health insurance companies and other health related companies are undoubtedly still pouring more into her coffers and will until the health reform legislation is complete. Why? She is voting against a public option that will help control private health industry pricing, even though her constituents are among the poorest in the country and need more economical health care options.
Of course Americans at large need her vote as well, because she is one of the Senators who was elected to act for the People, not for the health care industry. We would expect a Republican to support the health care lobby. That’s what they do, support special interests. Democrats should act for the rest of us.
Then there is Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Early in his career he was Nebraska State Insurance Commissioner, a job he parlayed into various insurance industry positions, insurance company senior executive and top insurance company lawyer. Senator Nelson has received over $2,000,000 from the insurance and health care field. From insurance interests he got $1,195,299, from health professionals he received $399,345 from pharmaceutical companies $258,483, and from hospital and nursing home owners $195,138.
Ben Nelson is against a public option. No one should be surprised, except perhaps those people in Nebraska who were naive enough to think that voting for a Democrat would be enough to get them affordable health care. The Senate should not have been surprised. Nelson has not been a reliable Democrat on issues where there is a conflict between the interests of the people and the $13 million in campaign funds from special interests Nelson has raised over the years.
How can this be? Follow the money. The President, whatever he wants to do, is outnumbered four to one. Four times as much campaign money from lobbyists is going into the pockets of Senators, Congressmen and their allies and staffs who rely on the politicians for their jobs as is going to the Administration. 535 members of Congress and their staffs are lined up for one or another lobbying group.
So how do we create more jobs? In the 2008 elections the largest single group of campaign contributors was the combined financial services, insurance and real estate category with $373 million. The largest among those was Goldman, Sachs at $5 million, followed by Citigroup at $4.2 million. The National Association of Realtors kicked in $3.2 million while they were selling inflated real estate and colluding with mortgage companies to create a real estate bubble that cost 7 million people their jobs.
We put $750 billion into the financial community to make sure that they were stable enough to begin funding business again. But the power of Washington says now that we have restored solvency to the financial system, we can only loan money to those large enterprises that will have much less chance of success.
Furthermore, they say, we must not interfere with the financial community’s chance to make profits. The same huge international corporations that gave billions to the Republicans and the Blanche Lincolns and Ben Nelsons say that we must now pull back and cut spending. More spending, they say, would be disastrous.
It is not disastrous for the executives on Wall Street who are again making seven-figure bonuses, while not creating one new job. The people whom we bailed out are not funding the businesses we need to create new jobs. To people who understand how to restore financial stability to the economy. So we must turn to former Goldman, Sachs executives and Citigroup and JP Morgan/Chase (who kicked in $4 million to insure their points of view win the day in Washington.)
We are on a merry-go-round of campaign funds, lobbyists and special interests, with the Republicans in the middle, as chief benefactors of the major lobbying groups, trying to disrupt any legislation that will advance the interests of the majority of Americans. And many Democrats taking the same money and making the same kinds of promises.
Some Americans must wonder why we even hold elections. The people with the greatest access to the government seem to be the people who own the banks, own the manufacturing plants, the radio stations, the television channels, the insurance companies. They have their say first. Then, perhaps, we the People have some hearing among those Senators and Congress persons, if they have any time left for us.
Once you are in Congress, you can do pretty much what you want these days. Lobbyists will give you the money you need to stay in Congress. Incumbent Senators have an average of $8 million to spend on campaigns because of lobbyists who spend lavishly on their campaigns. Compare that to the $1.8 million on average raised by challengers, who themselves must often be wealth even to get to the point of being a challenger. Even incumbent House members have a four to one advantage over challengers while raising about a million dollars. It is easier if you have lobbyists working on your behalf…which the incumbents do.
So what to do? It is pretty clear. We need to persuade the people around the President and the incumbents of both Parties that we need jobs. Until we have public financing for national political campaigns, they won’t hear us above the clinking of coins from the special interests.
We need to take the money out of politics and turn our government over to legislators who are more responsible to the American people than to lobbyists.