American Politics: Legal Corruption

As I’ve learned about various social problems occurring in the US, I’ve often found myself wondering ‘how has this been allowed to go on? How has no one in power done anything to stop this?’ It seems like common sense that fracking should be outlawed after all the damage it has caused to the environment and the water supply of many communities. After learning that record numbers of Americans are addicted and dying from opioids, I was certain that laws would be changed to tighten prescribing and distribution of narcotic pain killers. However, that is never how it works. After I finished researching whatever issue I was concerned with at the moment, I found the same thing: Nothing was being done because extremely wealthy people were benefiting from the problem. These people were using their money to influence politicians by hiring lobbyists and making large contributions to their campaigns. These politicians were in turn backing policies that benefited their wealthy donors’ causes, at the expense of the general public.

The current political landscape is sickening. I don’t believe this is how our government was intended to operate, as a plutocracy, or government by the wealthy, but that’s what we have. Unfortunately, many people in this country vote strictly based on the information they get from television adds. As a result, politicians spend huge amounts of money on campaign advertising. With a few exceptions, most elections are won by the person who spent the most. In congressional races, the candidate who spends more on a campaign wins the elections 91% of the time.

The issue of money corrupting politics was made exponentially worse by the 2010 Citizens United ruling. In a 5–4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions have the same political speech rights as individuals under the First Amendment. It found no compelling reason for prohibiting corporations from using money to influence elections. The decision struck down a federal law banning this practice. While corporations can’t donate directly to politicians, they can form what’s called a super political action committee (Super PAC). These Super PACs can then spend as much money as they like on advertising, as long as they disclose where their donations come from. They use that money to fund attack ads on politicians who they oppose, and ads that support politicians who they favor, which influence elections. These groups have spent hundreds of millions on elections since they were first created in 2010.The results of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision were predictable. Outside spending, which had already been rising before the decision, skyrocketed. Super PACs spend heavily on their own independently produced ads. They are required to work independently and not collaborate with the candidate or the candidate’s campaign manager, but there are ways to get around that.

A normal political action committee can only accept a few thousand dollars from each donor. Because of that, every serious presidential contender has a Super PAC supporting them. Many times, the funds raised by a Super PAC come from a few wealthy donors, or possibly only one.

Some Super PACs are founded specifically to back one particular candidate. There are many examples of this, but the 2016 Ted Cruz campaign illustrates it extremely well. Cruz was backed by four Super PACs, which were each being funded by one wealthy individual or family. The combination of these four Super PACs raised $31 million for the Cruz campaign in ONE WEEK during 2015. According to a Vox article, the person in charge of operating these Super PACs is Dathan Voelter, a close friend of Cruz.

One of the donors to a Cruz Super PAC is Robert Mercer, the CEO of a hedge fund management company. Mercer’s company has avoided over $6 billion in taxes through loopholes in the tax laws. It seems fairly clear that his aim is to purchase influence at the highest level with the hopes of keeping those loopholes open. Unfortunately for him, Cruz’s terrible personality was too much to overcome and he could not win his party’s nomination. That did not deter Mercer and his family, who quickly threw their support behind Donald Trump, who has probably done more for them than Cruz ever would have.

What do they get for their money? Lots. It’s been reported that within the last 5 years, the 200 most politically active companies in the US spent $5.8 billion influencing our government with lobbying and campaign contributions. Those same companies got $4.4 trillion in taxpayer support — earning a return of 750 times their investment. Until the Citizens United ruling is overturned, this is what American politics will continue to be: legal corruption.