Over $128 million has been raised by politicians and organizations in Michigan, just during the 2018 election cycle. Nationwide, almost $2.5 billion has been raised. The purpose of this money is to buy influence; candidates want to buy TV ads, billboards, and any other form of advertisement to get their name out to the public.
In 2010 the Supreme Court decided in the landmark case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) that, under the first amendment, corporations and other organizations cannot be prohibited from spending money on political causes. The majority opinion was that the first amendment protects not only free speech itself, but the act of free speech, and that corporations and unions are protected under the first amendment.
As a result of this decision, Super PACs were created. They are allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. Although they can spend as much as they want, the Supreme Court also ruled that Super PACs cannot have direct contact with political campaigns. They reasoned that giving money directly to politicians could corrupt the political process, due to the politician spending that money however they please. But, if there is no contact between the Super PAC donors and the politician, corruption is not possible. The politician has no control over how the money is spent, keeping the system ethical and transparent.
This is a logical fallacy, as it is clear that if a Super PAC raises hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars to influence an election in favor of a candidate, that money can buy a lot of political influence if the politician is elected.
“Even the best-intentioned legislator receiving money from an interest group is likely to at least listen to what donors have to say. And if you are hearing much more from people who donate money to you, it is hard not to be swayed by the greater body of argument and evidence from donors,” said Lynda Powell, a professor of political science at the University of Rochester, in an interview.
In a 2017 interview with Yale Environment 360, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said, “I got elected in 2007, and for all of that year and 2008 and 2009, there was a constant steady heartbeat of Republican climate change activity in the Senate...Then comes January 2010 and the Citizens United decision, which the fossil fuel industry asked for and expected and took instant advantage of. And from that moment forward, no piece of carbon dioxide regulation legislation has managed to get a single Republican co-sponsor in the Senate.”
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has received over $2.8 million from Oil & Gas companies, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has received almost $700,000 from Oil & Gas companies, according to followthemoney.org.
When asked about his thoughts on climate change in 2014, Mitch McConnell dismissed the question by saying “I’m not a scientist”. This is not surprising, as this dismissal echoes the concerns of his donors, many of who have something to lose with increased environmental regulation. Peabody Energy and Alliance Resource Partners are two coal companies who were some of McConnell’s top donors at the time.
Additionally, the political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by the oil and gas billionaire Koch brothers, set up a chapter in Kentucky to help get-out-the-vote efforts in 2014. Yet another example is the pro-McConnell Super PAC Kentuckians for Strong Leadership whose top donors consist of oil and coal companies.
Climate change isn’t the only issue that companies pay to sway politicians on. Every single issue that Americans care about can be tied to money in politics. From healthcare and auto-insurance, to infrastructure and education, money is being poured into our political system to win the influence of the politicians that take on these issues.
By June 2016, Hillary Clinton had already received $596,000 in contributions from pharmaceutical companies. Super PACs supporting her had raised $3.9 million from the healthcare industry altogether.
According to statnews.com, during the 2016 election cycle, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, gave $445,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee, $430,000 to GOPAC, a group that promotes Republican state and federal candidates, and $65,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association. They also gave $100,000 to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, and $25,000 to the Democratic Attorneys General Association. It is very clear that this group is trying to buy the influence of elected officials.
Money in politics is the most important issue facing our country. It creates a disconnect between what is best for the people and what is best for the politician. It’s also involved in every issue facing America, from healthcare to climate change. Big money encourages politicians to pass laws that are not for the greater good of society, but rather the super-rich. It gives the wealthy far more influence over the government than the rest of the electorate. It is essential that we create a government that works for all people, not just the wealthy.