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Our Corporate Government Essay, Research Paper

Our Corporate Government

America is known world wide as the greatest free country on the planet, yet in America there is a crisis of corruption in the democratic system. The American people are no longer the strongest force in the political process, nor are they the most important force for candidates and causes to win. American democracy is threatened by corporate political contributions, and those trying to fix this problem face a long, hard road to reform.

Corporate political financing is not a new problem whose dangers are only now clearly apparent. In a November 21, 1864 letter, President Abraham Lincoln wrote, As a result of war, corporations have become enthroned and an era of corruption will follow. The money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its rule by preying upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is concentrated in a few hands and the republic is destroyed. (Albert). Lincoln s prophesies are all too true today. Corporations create an addiction to American consumerism then feed off it . Big money then turns around and donates billions of dollars to Political parties, nullifying the strongest countervailing force the proletariat have. An uncorrupted Government would be the most effective force to fight corporate influence ( Dreber 23).

However, America has never had an uncorrupted government. Money in politics dates back to George Washington, who financed much of his campaign with corporate money (Hakim). In 1907, federal law prohibited companies from donating directly to candidates. In 1946, a similar law banned direct donations from unions. Individual donations to candidates were also limited to $1,000 per election year. Donations to national party committees, or so-called soft money donations, are and always have been unregulated and unlimited. The 1974 Federal Elections Act upheld donations to the parties but put certain checks on them, such as the formation of the Federal Election Commission (Florida).

Soft money, though originally intended for grassroots organizing for the parties , can be used for any expense the party deems necessary, short of giving it directly to campaign funds. This has been upheld in the Supreme Court, on a basis that banning the use of soft money for advertising would violate the First Amendment. The 1974 law also allowed for the formation of Political Action Committees (P.A.C.s.). P.A.C.s, often named in honor of congressmen, can only give $5,000 to candidate campaigns, but can give to parties or pay directly for issue based advertisements. These are ads that say where candidates stand on issues, an easy way to directly promote specific candidates. P.A.C.s can receive any amount of money from any source. P.A.C.s are often started by corporations or candidates themselves, and through fancy accounting are virtually untraceable. A 1991 court decision ruled that parties that received corporate, individual or P.A.C. soft money had to disclose the source and amount of money. But this did not slow corporate contributions. It instead revealed a corporate tyranny that runs the American government behind the scenes (Florida).

The corporations are funding the two party system with a vengeance. During the 1999- 2000 election cycle, the Republican party spent $252 million of $294.9 million of soft money raised and the Democrats $153.5 million of $172.7 million raised (figures as of October, 2000). These numbers are all up from the 1996 election cycle, when parties took in record amounts of soft money. In fact, 1996 was the election that has really spurred the soft money controversy, because both major parties more than doubled their 1992 fundraising returns. The Democratic party raised $107.2 million, more than three times its 1992 total and the Republican National Committee raised $123.9 million, over two and a half times its 1992 total. (Federal )

The record amounts of money are most discouraging when a link between party policy and corporate donations becomes obvious. A clear example is that of Philip Morris, the nation s leading producer of tobacco products, and also the nation s leading source of soft money. Phillip Morris donated $1,456,659 in soft money to the Republican party as of October, 2000. This offers a convincing explanation of why the Republican Party strongly opposes tobacco regulation. Why then did the Democrats not say anything about the link between Philip Morris and the Republicans during this year s campaigns? There are two main reasons. First of all, the Democrats themselves, have received $256,641 from Philip Morris. This is apparently enough to keep them quiet. The overriding factor, however, is that the Philip Morris is not alone in its donating efforts. AOL Time Warner, the largest media conglomerate in the world, donated $1,538,442, or 70% of its total contributions, to the Democrats. ( Federal) This way the Democrats will not condemn a media monopoly, and of course AOL Time Warner will not air negative features about the Democrats. (Center)

Multi-national corporations buying one party or another has contributed greatly to American voter apathy, but an even larger factor is that many companies or groups donate equally to both parties, assuring that no matter who wins, a corporate agenda will be represented. This has essentially disenfranchised the American voter and undermined our democracy. Under this system the average citizen has no power, no voice in government, for as long as a major party candidate wins, big business wins. This has also created candidate parity on the national level. The stance of both Bush and Gore would traditionally be considered moderately right and just right of center, respectively. This complete equivalence in national politics makes it impossible to discern a significant difference between Bush and Gore on many issues. A voter could not vote for Gore if he disagrees with Bush s stance and vice versa. This is a prospect that should be and is worrisome to liberals and conservatives. The Democrats felt the backlash this year with the strength of Ralph Nader s presidential campaign, and both parties should expect repercussions from underrepresented voters who may very well switch to the Reform or other parties on the right and the Green and other parties on the left.

Another effect of the similarity between modern Democrats and Republicans has been the debacle of the 2000 presidential election. Because George W. Bush and Al Gore are so similar, the American voters could not find a major issue upon which to make their decisions, neither candidate can make a radical statement to gain support because neither of them can afford to lose a donor. Therefore, America had an election where the difference between the two front runner candidates was less than one million votes, and an election can come down to a few thousand pregnant ballots. Of course there are few Fortune Five Hundred C.E.O.s that are worried.

Many of the donors who contribute equally have a traditionally conservative or liberal agenda, and others should not have any agenda represented in politics anyway. Either way , if a voter disagrees with one of the following corporation s or association s agenda, he would be underrepresented by either of the two major parties. Another factor to consider is that, while a corporation may be strongly Democratic or Republican it may still may give money to the other party, making voters with grievances against any group underrepresented by the major parties. The following is a list taken from the top 100 P.A.C. soft money donors who are considered equal contributors by the Center for Responsive Politics. This list shows the rank among all donors, the total donations that were filed with the Federal Elections Commission and the percentage to each party or its candidates. ( Federal Elections Commission, Center for Responsive Politics)

Rank Group Total Donations Dem. Rep.

4 Microsoft Corp $3,570,135 46% 54%

6 SBC Communications $3,251,830 45% 55%

7 Citigroup Inc $3,251,624 52% 48%

29 Freddie Mac $1,994,739 47% 53%

41 AFLAC Inc $1,670,385 45% 55%

50 Fannie Mae $1,474,557 54% 46%

51 Global Crossing $1,468,736 44% 56%

56 America Online $1,434,487 45% 55%

65 American Medical Assn $1,312,756 48% 52%

76 Credit Union Assn $1,227,723 45% 55%

78 Anheuser-Busch $1,177,650 48% 52%

79 American Hospital Assn $1,154,131 50% 50%

84 Walt Disney Co $1,131,864 51% 49%

90 Chase Manhattan $1,047,919 45% 55%

The massive influx of money into politics has led to a sharp decline in voter registration and an increase in voter lethargy. In the 1996 Presidential election 196,511,000 people were legally able to vote but only 96,456,345 or 49.08% of the people showed up to vote. Less than fifty percent of Americans cared who their next president was. In 1998 voter turn out was even lower, 38% of the people cared who their congressional representatives were. These are ominous trends that signal a true threat to democracy, which is the will of the people, not the will 40% of the people. While 100% voter turnout would be miraculous, even numbers as high as Iceland where 78% voter turnout is the average would signal a turnaround in American politics. However, that will not happen given the current situation (Federal). The American public is not as ignorant as some politicians seem to think. As long as money wins elections, and corporations give all the money, politicians are just talking heads who are run by the richest companies in the world, and the people will not vote. Although, in classic Joseph Heller style, if the people do not vote there is no way that money will not win elections, because the only way to change the system is from the inside. So the political system will continue to spin in the Catch-22 where bought elections cause low voter turnout, and low voter turnout allows corporations to buy elections. America will spin and the corporate rule will continue (Dreber 103)

The overwhelming question must be, how does America stop this corporate rule? One solution is Campaign Finance Reform. In this election year, more so than the last, the American people were bombarded with the subject of campaign reform. The bombardment started with the presidential primary, when Arizona Senator John McCain ran on such a platform. When George W. Bush won the Republican nomination, fighting big money took a back seat on a national level, to Compassionate Conservatism. Fortunately for those who supported the Arizona senator, the nation s most watched Senate race made big news in the world of C.F.R. The candidates for Senate in New York, Rick Lazio and Hillary Rodham Clinton both banned the use of soft money, and P.A.C. money from their campaigns. They agreed to not allow for outside organizations and P.A.C.s to air campaign ads. This agreement has sparked wary hopefulness across the country, some critics calling it more superficial politics rather than actual reform. (Associated Press)

There is another point of view that says that C.F.R. is not the solution at all, because the problem lies in the corporate rule of society. When questioned about C.F.R., in a 1999 interview, noted writer and radical activist Noam Chomsky said, It s not a bad thing, but its not going to have much effect. There are too many ways to cheat. It s like trying to pretend to stop drugs. There are so many ways to bring drugs in that it will always happen. I don t think the real problem is campaign financing. The real problem is the overwhelming power of corporate tyrannies in running society, and campaign finance reform is not going to change that. (Albert) The situation in Chomsky s eyes in not good, he does not, however, offer an alternate solution.

Two questions must then be posed. What will change the American political system? and what will happen if the system is left unchecked? The future under the current American political system is grim. In the same interview, Chomsky said The two main parties are merging into one all-powerful corporate machine, a machine that looks unwilling to give up any power. A machine that is dead set on taking the power from the people. Left unchecked the current corporate regime will create a country of puppet politicians, who say little and do less. Voter apathy will rise and voter turnout will fall. The corporate machine will be the government, the ballot box will be the last artifact of the American democracy (Albert) That is a most pessimistic prediction of the future in a system that is unchanged and allowed to run rampant.

The pessimistic prophecy is not a future many Americans can want. In fact, the present situation is not at all what many voters are looking for in democracy. Many suffragists feel completely dispossessed under the current system, which is one reason why voter turnout and voter registration are at all-time lows. Many younger voters are entering into a system where they feel they have no voice, a system where they see no hope. To a certain extent they are right: old money characteristically funds older politicians. But presently there is a new hope under this system for the younger generation. In the new economy, there are many new, progressively minded, billion dollar corporations. These predominately technology based, corporations offer a last hope in the soft money world. If the Gen. X voters want a voice they must call on their fellow Gen. Xer s who have made their millions, to step in to the political arena, to finance new wave of politicians who will represent them. That may be a solution in the current system, but it is not a perfect solution, by any means.

In truth, a perfect democracy has no private money in the government, or its election process. As long as there is private money, there is a private good to be protected, and it invariably receives protection before the public good. Every wing of the majestic bird called the American political system theoretically believes in the protecting the public good. Their theories for protecting it may vary, but the share the same ultimate goal. Unfortunately, the protection of the voting public is theory, not practice. Today it is the protection of the paying private sector. The Greeks, the Romans, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and the Founding Fathers would all agree that this is not democracy. In fact, they may venture to label our system plutocracy. In a country that now expects two billion dollar presidential campaigns, the only system that would work is one where the candidates can only spend an equal amount of taxpayer money. There is the argument that this would increase taxes, but if big business paid all its taxes, instead of deducting millions of dollars a year in the name of campaign contributions there would be a budget surplus. Then and only then, when the monetary playing field is leveled, will every vote count, the government will be the stalwart voice of the people once again. Publicly funded campaigns would take the power back from big business and put the power into the hands of the average citizenry, where it belongs.

The hardest idea for many people to understand is the idea that whatever is the solution is, be it Campaign Finance Reform, new politicians, publicly funded campaigns or any other solution that finds its way out of the wood work, it is a new, untested solution. America has never been a country where politics have been free of money. If they are to be separated, the American political system would be completely new, and the government would be sailing uncharted water. This is a risk the American people must take if they want a country where fair politics means equal politics, politics that serve the average citizen, not politics the citizens must serve.

Works Cited

Albert, Micheal. Conversations with Noam Chomsky. [online] Available

www.zmag.org, November 21, 2000

Associated Press. The Real Deal in New York. [Online] Available

www.ap.org, November 16, 2000

Center For Responsive Politics. Soft Money. [Online] Available

www.opensecerts.org, November 6, 2000

Dreber, Charles. Corporation Nation. New York: St. Martins Press, 2000

Federal Elections Commission. Media Guide Citizens Guide Candidates Guide

[online] Available www.fec.gov, November 6, 2000

Hakim, Joy. Liberty for All?. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994

Florida Times-Union. All about soft Money. [Available] online

www.jacksonville.com/learningcenter/softmoney.html, November 21,200

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