Campaign financing in America is a really fun game for corporations. The legislation surrounding the issue implicitly extends the right for corporations and interest groups to advertise on issues without any restrictions. Donor disclosure becomes a grey area as corporations send their money to interests groups created to support their cause, which then scrub the donor’s name off and distribute it to other groups, lobbyists and directly into campaigns themselves. The political power of regional constituencies becomes superficial under the weight of such massive strategic money spending. In a country where the interests of voters are consistently stomped out by corporate bills, democracy is clearly not a priority. The event “Money Talks,” hosted on Thursday, October 23 by Democracy Now, discussed corporations’ role in running this country and how it has compromised the core of various political issues.
Why is America the biggest police state that has ever existed? Last week, many publications talked about how Mississippi has more people imprisoned per capita than both China and Russia, with a shocking 1,115 inmates per 100,000 residents. The United States contains about 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners. That does not happen because the country is filled with criminals, but because the private prison industry has spent over $45 million on lobbying and campaign donations. That money is used to push legislation which increases sentences and works to raise incarceration rates. People are being imprisoned in a system that has been proven not to help criminal reformation, whether or not it’s designed to, in order to guarantee a hefty pile of cash donated to run campaigns.
Last Thursday, Alexandra Cox, a member of the sociology department at SUNY New Paltz, spoke about inequality caused by the criminal justice system. In 1980, only 10% of young black men who dropped out of high school ended up in prison; by 2000, that number went up to 34%. Instead of creating jobs to help the unemployed, we’ve simply started locking them up. Prison makes all these problems worse — family members lose access to a source of income and children are more likely to become incarcerated. “When we think about some of the transformations in the economy, we can’t help but think about how the rich have gotten richer and the poor have been imprisoned.”
The cost of a college education has more than doubled in the past 20 years. At the same time, a college degree has become the new high school diploma. Although there might be institutions labeled “public universities,” there is no cheap and easily accessible college education. In order to make progress on any issue, education needs to be considered a human right. Students in non-wealthy families should not have to choose between not going to college or guaranteeing that they will start their professional careers with a massive debt. Colleges, private and public, have become massive industries. Students and parents alike can’t help but feel they are being exploited — forced to accept loans from the government or banks at interest rates designed to be a burden. The government has given banks loans at a 1.75% interest rate and students are still being punished by those same banks with interests rates as high as 7%! Educational institutions and banks lobby the government, donating millions of dollars that result in students being treated as pieces of meat to cut a profit from. Students, these people will not have your back when you’re 30 with a $40,000 debt. Vote the politicians that don’t care about you out of office and reclaim your freedom from oppressive loan rates.
Governmental candidate Zephyr Teachout is a politician that does not get votes by making empty promises, but by offering empathy. At the “Money Talks” event she compared the political rhetoric as bland and redundant. Each statement she made had a rhythm and each breath had purpose. What Teachout said illustrated not only that she understood the existence of problems, but also a passion to change them identical to that of activists at a rally. Flushing money out of politics will not only close the door on corporations puppeteering our government, but open the door to a new form of political rhetoric altogether. Rhetoric that involves less objectivity and less sophistic statements calculated to avoid indicating a refusal to compromise.
That’s what politicians offer us now. People in office are not free to say what they believe or even what their constituency believes. That is a result of the conflicting interests between legitimate political ambition and whatever strings come attached to the millions of dollars required to run a campaign. “I saw a fear in Cuomo’s eyes,” Teachout said at one point, “I saw a fear that he was only maintaining a front that he was in control and that he had really become a servants to those that fund him.”
Once elections occur with no strings attached politicians will be able to unconditionally offer something tragically lacking in our government — empathy. This election is another opportunity to take that first step. If we reform campaign financing in New York, other states will surely follow. We have an opportunity to prove something to all the people claiming public financing of political campaigns will not work. We have millions of people in this country who will dedicate themselves to ensuring it does. Whatever your cause is — marriage equality, women’s rights, ending fracking — the only way to ensure that your movement will be able to put supportive politicians in office is to change the way those politicians are elected.