China Daily

Democracy dies when money knocks on the door

Dark money is pouring into the US political arena as the 2022 midterm elections approach. According to The New York Times, Barre Seid, a secretive electronics magnate, has donated a record $1.65 billion to a new conservative nonprofit led by the Co-Chairman of the Federalist Society Leonard Leo, an activist who has used his connections to Republican donors and politicians to help engineer the conservative dominance of the Supreme Court and to finance manipulation over abortion rights, voting rules and climate change policy. As CNN reports, this is the largest single contribution ever made to a politically focused nonprofit.

“There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is”. Senator Mark Hanna said in 1895 when he talked about his success in helping William McKinley win the US presidential election twice. Not shying away from the truth, he told the secret of the long-standing “money politics” in the United States.

In various elections across the US, it takes a lot of money to remind the public of a candidate’s existence. 

How much does it cost to become President of the United States? In 2004, $700 million was spent in total. In 2008, that figure quickly rose to $1 billion, and in 2012, it doubled to $2 billion. In 2016, a total of $6.6 billion was spent on US elections, both presidential and congressional. In 2020, the figure soared to nearly $14 billion, a record high. 

There is no such thing as a free lunch in the world. As dark money pours in, it will undoubtedly influence the behavior of candidates, the attitudes of political parties and the decisions of the government. Take gun control as an example. As the “boss” of the anti-gun control bloc, with more than 5 million members and a scandalous amount of money, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has penetrated deeply into all levels and all areas of American electoral politics. Interest groups such as the NRA continue to provide enormous political donations, lobbying politicians and hindering gun control legislation.

Why hasn’t Martin Luther King’s dream come true after 59 years? Why is the racial-economic divide still widening and inequality increasing? Why are African Americans and other people of color so much more impoverished than white people? Why do anti-Asian hate crimes occur frequently, discrimination against Muslims continues unabated and racial-profiling persists? The deep-seated cause of such injustice is that the US government and political parties have been under the thumb of interest groups for a long time, while the disadvantaged have little, if any, influence.

Noam Chomsky, a social critic, political activist and Institute Professor Emeritus at MIT, has pointed to a positive correlation between Americans’ influence over policy-making and their level of wealth. About 70 percent of Americans have no such influence at all.

Although on the surface everyone has a vote in the elections, a few people actually have disproportionate sway over the outcome of the elections. “This extraordinary flow of huge contributions is providing the “Super Rich” with magnified influence over elections and corrupting influence over government decisions. It is also creating deep cynicism among the American people about their interests being fairly represented in Washington. This is not the way our democracy is meant to work or the way our country is meant to be governed,” said Fred Wertheimer, the Founder of the nonprofit and nonpartisan organization Democracy 21.

From “Occupy Wall Street” to “Black Lives Matter”, the justice American people have been longing for remains elusive. Perhaps the knocking of dark money is too loud for American politicians to hear the voice of the people. As the 39th US President Jimmy Carter put it: “We’ve become now an oligarchy. Democracy is dead”.


Xin Ping, China Daily

Categories China Daily Opinion