It's a national pastime for voters to badmouth any given elected official from the comfort of their disengaged and isolated perches. While most citizens gripe about politicians or the system for operating beyond their influence, do any voters understand the how and why of elite interests wielding far greater force?
Recently I received emails from two members of Congress informing me of an important fund raising deadline. During any given election cycle the Federal Election Commission periodically requires candidates and political action committees alike to report their fund raising results. The donation appeals sent to my inbox represented the exact same party-related political action committee. Each letter urged a contribution before the Aug. 31 deadline, to meet a specified fund-raising goal. Doing so would enable said PAC a show of party strength or, as one letter boldly stated, "to take this fight to" the opposing party in each district.
Such letters, perhaps one of hundreds that get mailed out each month, do not mean much in and of themselves. As a cog in the machinery of mega dollar campaign financing, however, the letters represent a failure on the part of vote-eligible citizens. The shortcoming is twofold: first is the well known indifference of that 40 per cent of voters who opt not to show up at the polls every election; second, and perhaps more crucial, is the group of voters who do participate, but take little notice of how candidates finance their campaigns or who contributes to them.
At this point, voters find themselves on the losing end of the bargain known as representative democracy. It adds up to a zero-sum faceoff with wealthy donors. Why? Because voters have not shown the initiative nor interest that offsets a campaign's need for large dollar donations; the kind of contributions that finance the television ads produced to manipulate underinformed citizens. Also on the campaign tab is the army of pollsters and analysts sifting surveys and focus groups for a candidate's penny ante political advantage.
The way torrents of cash saturate political campaigns, the most accountability can hope to achieve is talking point status. What often looks like wilful passivity on the part of voters enables a breach between what the electorate intends and what the highest bids for influence actually achieve.
Here lies the influence gap that privileges corporations and monied interests over everyone else. If you don't believe this gap is a meaningful factor in the poor representation we endure today, let's have a look at an interview snippet quoting Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) in his district's newspaper, The Birmingham News. The occasion for the Dec. 8, 2010 conversation was his appointment as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. "In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated," the congressman pontificated, "and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks."