Right now, there is a serious conversation that needs to be had, by the people, with respect to our government. Over the last half-century our government officials have become increasingly able to be purchased; as the line between corruption and standard procedure continues to blur. The question we need to be asking ourselves is: “How much is your integrity worth?” Why ask ourselves when we’re talking about our government officials? Because they are us. I’ll explain. You see, we are not a democracy here in the United States, not a pure one, anyway. We are a representative democracy, that is, everyone votes for who they would like to have “represent” them in government. The hope is that our representatives will listen to us, and do what we, the people, want. But at the end of the day, they make the votes that count; it’s their opinion and moral compass which really matter. So again, I put it to you: “How much is your integrity worth?” How much money would it take to sell your soul—to become a tool to be wielded by another? The question is important because our representatives are us. They are men and women of flesh and blood like anyone else. Rare are those of such incorruptible integrity to whom a price tag will not stick; and politicians are not known for their integrity.
One instance where copious amounts of money are exchanged, which as of now is considered completely legal, is campaign contributions. Political campaigns either for election or re-election are expensive to run. The most important, and likely most expensive campaign to run, is that of the presidency. If you take the amount of money raised in every election from 1976 to 2000, and then account for inflation so that they are all in 2011 dollars, you will see that they range from 437.06 million to 688.79 million dollars. This is a massive amount of money to go into essentially the marketing of people to the masses, to try and convince them one way or another. However, with as much money as that is, in the 2004 and 2008 elections 1,047.14 million and 1,824.93 million dollars were raised, respectively. This is a massive surge in money. President Obama himself raised $89,473,611 in 2008 that’s a lot of money for one man to go through to get elected. But he won, so I guess it was worth it, right? The problem is that no one donates to a campaign without some expectations.
Whether they understand it or not, every donor sees contributing to a campaign as an investment. Everyday people donate small sums in hopes that their candidate will win, and make good on all of the promises that they have made over the (extremely) long campaign season. It’s an investment in the future. And while five bucks from many people is good, several million from a single person is better. Now when dealing with these kinds of sums, the essential dynamic does not change, it is still an investment; however, the investment here is a very real and substantial one. The donor in this case has a great deal that they are putting on the line, as it were, for this candidate to win. Now, it’s possible that the donor giving millions is just hoping that the candidate makes good on his promises, just like Joe Everyman, and has the millions to burn, but it’s unlikely. When someone puts that kind of money into an investment they become invested they are likely going to expect some kind of quid pro quo. Moreover, they’ve likely already spoken directly to the candidate and stipulated the terms of the “donation.” Now this may seem cynical, but we all know that whoever holds the purse strings makes the puppet dance. It would be hard to imagine a world in which when someone gives you a million dollars you don’t feel the least bit indebted to them.
But I’m not saying Obama is a greedy man, or that he’s definitely a puppet. I’m just saying that it’s easy to see a candidate fall into the trap of taking money from parties with their own agendas and then having those agendas become the candidate’s. The answer to this is simple: limit how much individuals and corporations can donate to a candidate. Furthermore, in a perfect world, candidates would also be given a maximum amount that they could raise and use on a particular campaign. Thus leveling the playing field and saving candidates from becoming beholden to private parties or corporations. Since television advertising in the United States is one of the major expenditures of a campaign, I believe we should do as Great Britain does and provide it to campaigning parties for free. This leaves the limited money that each candidate has, to be used in other, more creative, ways.
Running for public office should not be something that only the affluent can afford to do. Campaigns should not be a race to see who can make the most money. Candidates should not be able to decimate their opponents through a sheer show of capital. Elections should be about having a choice between specific candidates, with opinions and ideologies of their own, whom you identify with. They should not be a “choice” between two rich people following party lines, promising whatever they can to get their party’s vote.