Our democracy is out of balance: billionaires and special interests spend ever-larger sums on politicians while the needs of the rest of us are pushed to the side and overlooked. In today’s big money system, politicians are accountable only to a wealthy few, not the vast majority of us.
But we probably don’t need to convince you, because 93 percent of Americans already agree: big money is hurting our democracy. And it’s hurting us all.
Current efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act include massive tax cuts to the wealthiest 1 percent, at the expense of covering the sickest and most vulnerable Americans who need access to affordable health care. This reflects the priorities of the donor class, not the majority of Americans. If we want health care solutions that work for the people – not just the richest who will always be able to afford health insurance, or corporate interests like insurance or pharmaceutical companies – we must change where politicians get their campaign funding.
The majority of Americans don’t think the wealthy pay enough in taxes – and yet the plans some in Washington are offering to reform our tax code would greatly reduce the tax bills of the wealthiest individuals and corporations. That is because politicians want to help their donors, even if it means the rest of us have to pay more in taxes or receive fewer government services like early education, health care, job training, or infrastructure improvements.
When candidates must spend too much of their time seeking money from a donor class that is overwhelmingly white and male, the policies and priorities of many elected officials are unquestionably narrowed. In addition, these electoral systems perpetuate discrimination that keeps people from running for office and being represented by those in office. When underrepresented people lack access to networks of wealthy people, the money needed to run for office can be a serious barrier that keeps otherwise qualified and talented leaders from running.
The gap between the richest and poorest continues to grow in America. In 2016, the top 1 percent of Americans received more than 20 percent of total income, while the bottom 50 percent received 12 percent. As the cost of campaigning continues to grow, candidates rely more heavily on a small number of large donors. That means that the priorities of those wealthy donors become the priorities of the elected officials themselves. And that’s why, despite historic income inequality, Congress’ priorities are cutting taxes for the wealthy while slashing spending for programs like Meals on Wheels, public broadcasting, and food stamps.
Strong majorities of Americans support clean energy, fighting climate change, and ending government subsidies for dirty energy companies. Unfortunately, the same people responsible for polluting our air, water, and climate are the ones spending millions on political campaigns and lobbyists. That means members of Congress must decide whether to support their big donors or the people they represent – and too often choose the former. The communities that are most often and hardest hit by climate change and a polluted environment – low income areas and communities of color – are also the ones with the least amount of political clout, and are less likely to be heard by our current political system that favors wealthy donors over everyone else.
Although often we think of money in politics as a national problem, local politicians are not immune to big money’s influence. Too often in our communities, we see local leaders who reflect the priorities of big donors at the municipal level, like real estate developers or big corporations. That influence distorts local policies resulting in problems like unaffordable housing, corporate tax breaks that deplete community services, unequal school funding, and law enforcement policies that disproportionately hurt poor neighborhoods and residents of color.