Money overwhelms votes in presidential elections

THE ISSUE: Most Americans are spectators as presidential candidates of both parties jockey for the corporate financial support they need to be serious contenders. This creates a sense of powerlessness that is devastating to an effective democracy.

Democrat and Republican presidential candidates present vastly different platforms, but the process by which they become a viable contender for the presidency requires that they pander to interests that often are in conflict with most Americans.

Democrats tend to present a more populist platform, but they still must run a corporate gauntlet that determines whether they can finance a campaign.

The difficulty of running a campaign that does not appeal to big-money donors was evident last week. Candidate Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, received donations from 35,000 supporters in his first full day as a candidate. Does that mean he will be the Democrat’s nominee for president?

Not a chance. The average size of the donations was $43.

At the same time, operatives for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign were working with Priorities USA Action, a “super PAC” that pursues big-ticket donations.

Each Republican candidate, of course, must do the same thing. The candidate must court corporations and billionaires, convincing them that they’ll get their money’s worth. Jeb Bush got an early start with a fundraising dinner that had a $100,000 per guest admission fee. Texas Sen. Ted Kruz already is bragging he’s collected more than $40 million from super PACs, and billionaire Texas industrialists have said they will contribute close to $1 billion during the election.

In the 2012 election, incumbent President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney each spent about $1 billion. Applying that to Sen. Sanders’ candidacy, he would need $43 contributions from 2.3 million people. Experts predict total spending for the 2016 race will top $5 billion.

As candidates seek the approval of those who can afford to bankroll their political aspirations, voters are awkward bystanders. The typical voter’s interests are not inherently at odds with the interests of billionaires and mega-corporations, but often they are. Most voters want a decent-paying job with benefits, protection from workplace and environmental hazards and a tax code that recognizes they have little disposable income. Those with the money to invest in candidates typically want none of these things, as they would hamper profit margins.

On the many issues where the voter of moderate income has interests that conflict with the extremely wealthy, the voter is left with the lame hope that one of the candidates still standing on election day fooled his or contributors.

The end result is not just that voters must choose between candidates who already have been pre-approved by large corporations and the very rich, but that voters have an increasing sense that they are powerless.

Citizens who believe they have no power through the political process are inclined to vent their frustrations in less productive ways, a fact that was all too apparent in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri. Citizens need an effective voice in American politics. Their voice is now smothered by wads of cash.

(Published May 2015)

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Filed under Campaign finance, Presidential election

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