Voting As If It Mattered

The Road to Resilience

When we talk about the scourge of money in politics, we are generally talking about large contributions that drown out the importance and influence of small donations.  The disproportionate share of campaign donations by the big donors has meant that, barring really significant public unrest, elected officials naturally consider their interest above ours.  This has been scientifically proven (see Gilens and Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” American Political Science Association 2014, doi.10.1017/S1537592714001595).  The perception of those officials is that money buys votes, and, in fact, the candidate with the most money wins 90% of the time.

I’ve been wondering lately how corporate money actually produces votes for candidates.  Most of us bristle at the idea that somebody has bought our vote, yet the results are clear. We, the electorate, are considered passive consumers, and the frequency of positive messages about a candidate and negative messages against the opposition candidate generally decides who we vote for:  just like selling soap.  You should bristle at that as well, but it is a fact.  The money goes for media time, literature, and paid campaign staff.
A somewhat more encouraging precedent was set by the Sanders campaign in 2016.  He proved that millions of individual small contributions from an enthusiastic base could compete with the donations from large contributors.  That meant that a candidate could actually get elected without being beholden to the interests of the wealthy.  Although Sanders stood alone in 2016, the message was heard loud and clear by every Democratic candidate running since then.  Perhaps the same is true for some Republicans, although I’m not sure that the corporate agenda necessarily conflicts with the agenda of the average Republican voter.

At any rate, the net result is that I get about a hundred emails a day from Democratic congressional and gubernatorial candidates all across the country.  Giving a $27 contribution to Bernie is one thing, but giving even a $5 contribution to each of a hundred or more candidates is out of the question.  It has become a regular source of irritation for me as my first job when I go online is to delete all the donation requests as rapidly as I can.  I’ve gotten to know the names and the “hooks” that they use so I can delete them without even looking at them.  I actually do get talked into making a donation occasionally, if I’m convinced that it is important enough.  I’m less and less inclined to do that because of the devious traps that Act Blue, the Democratic fundraising website, set up.  First they ask you, “Could you just donate $3?” but provide no button to click below $10.  I write in $3 (it is a matter of principle!) and then I am required to cancel the check mark that would have me giving that amount monthly.  Then I have to cancel the “leave a tip” checkmark or I will be paying that as well.  The darker side of all this is that I suspect that on at least one occasion, they double-billed me on my credit card.

The only solution is to take all of the private contributions out of politics and to drastically limit the amount that can be spent.  If the campaigns are limited to 6 weeks as they are in many other countries instead of literally forever as it is here now, it would severely cut back the amount of money needed.  If all the media, especially TV and radio, were held to their obligation as users of the public airwaves to provide free and equal time to all candidates, most of the rest of the money now spent would not be needed.

Lastly, if we citizens took our responsibility seriously, we shouldn’t have to be goaded into paying attention to something that could very well decide whether we live or die.  A zillion dollars spent on a campaign should not be enough to buy your vote if you are literate on campaigns and issues, and your fellow citizens did the same.  Sadly, few of us have any inclination to do that and the cleverest “dog and pony show” often wins the day.  The good news is that it is our votes, not the money, that elects our leaders, and if we take time to study the issues and make a considered decision, we will earn back the democracy that our complacency has lost.  Start now!

Just a reminder about the Fixit Café!  It’s happening again this weekend, Mar. 3, 10am-2pm at the Eagles Hall just south of town on the east side.  This is an event where you bring broken items such as lamps, furniture, appliances, bicycles, clothing, jewelry, etc. and dedicated fixers try to fix them for you for free.  The more exotic the item, the more enticing it is for compulsive fixers.  Other than implicit satisfaction, what we get out of it is less junk in the landfill.  Also, since you must watch and learn so you might be able to do it yourself next time, we make more savvy and resourceful owners of stuff.