Beware influence of wealth on democracy

By Nicholas Riebel, Contributing Writer ||

So, we had an interesting Supreme Court decision on campaign finance this week. According to this illuminating article, the Supreme Court ruled that now “a single contributor is no longer capped on how many candidates and party committees he/she can give to in a given election cycle.”

While it “keeps in place the federal campaign limits that restrict how much a donor can give to any one candidate or to any one party committee” (see above source) it means exactly one thing: Wall Street and the ultra-rich are now able to buy our elections even more so than they were already, thanks to the Citizens United and other Supreme Court decisions.

The Washington Post piece helpfully lists the “winners” and “losers” of this further destruction of our democracy and mockery of justice: party committees, state parties, and big donors.

Essentially the two former groups win because they can get more money. The big donors win because they are “now able to spend more of their own money on more candidates and more campaign committees. If you wanted to spread your wealth around to… every Republican candidate running for Senate this year, you can now do it.”

In a democracy, everyone is supposed to be equal: every adult who chooses to vote has one vote. And in our democracy, everyone has the right to, among other things, free speech. Unfortunately for our democracy, the conservative Supreme Court is unwisely reinforcing the view that those with more money should be entitled to more votes, more influence, and more power in our government.

We have not yet reached the point where the richest Americans, or even foreigners, can openly buy our elections. At the least, there is the illusion that we choose our own leaders. But with partisan gerrymandering, Super PACS dominating ads, and a right-libertarian Supreme Court increasingly leaning toward a plutocratic system of government, we may not have that illusion of democracy for long.

If you believe that I am exaggerating, ask yourself this: when has a politician in America, let alone Washington D.C., advocated for programs to alleviate poverty? Why is it so difficult to renew unemployment insurance and food stamps? Why are Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid under attack? Why is the government (with bipartisan support) trying to undermine and (I suspect) ultimately abolish the welfare state?

The rich are able to buy our politicians and simultaneously get them to enact policies which benefit them and hurt everyone else, particularly the poorest of us. Wall Street is the most dangerous actor in all this: as its main concern is profit, it can pressure our government to promote increasingly draconian conservative economic, social, and foreign policies.

I must admit, I am at a loss for what to do. Our democracy is being undermined before our eyes. Our politicians are compromised, and our government will become increasingly authoritarian and oppressive as anti-American forces among the corporate conservative elite dominate the United States. I would say that only by voting for the lesser evils can we eventually stop these greater evils from assuming legal control of our government and thus our lives; yet with voter ID laws and other (usually conservative/Republican) efforts to suppress the vote, even this may not be a possibility.

I could be wrong about all this, of course. But even if I am, do we really want a system in which those who have money determine our destiny as a nation and as individuals, manipulate the system to get wealthier, and enable a permanent oligarchy to control our affairs? Or would we rather get back to the democratic principles of our Founding Fathers? We can have one or the other, and we must decide which. As we make up our minds, the plutocrats and oligarchs enforce a bipartisan dictatorship of the wealthy and powerful.

Nicholas Riebel is a freshman contributing writer. Email him at nriebel@fandm.edu.

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