Posted by AzBlueMeanie:
"A tiny number of Americans -- .26 percent -- give more than $200 to a congressional campaign. .05 percent give the maximum amount to any congressional candidate. .01 percent give more than $10,000 in any election cycle. And .000063 percent -- 196 Americans -- have given more than 80 percent of the super-PAC money spent in the presidential elections so far."
So writes Lawrence Lessig for The Atlantic in Big Campaign Spending: Government by the 1%:
Here's what we must come to see: America has lost the capacity to govern. On a wide range of critical issues -- from global warming to tax reform, from effective financial regulation to real health-care change, from the deficit to defense spending -- we have lost the capacity to do anything other than suffer through a miserable status quo. If there is a ship of state, its rudder has been lost. We are drifting. We can't change course. And eventually, and with absolute certainty, in waters such as these, a drifting ship will sink.
The cause of this drift is clear, and it is not "polarization." Polarization -- of the political class at least -- is real. In Congress, it is worse than at any time since the Civil War.
But polarization is just a symptom of a more fundamental disease. It is fueled by this more fundamental disease. But it is this disease we must understand -- and cure -- if we're ever to restore this Republic.
That disease is just this: because of the way we fund the campaigns that determine our elections, we give the tiniest fraction of America the power to veto any meaningful policy change. Not just change on the left but also change on the right. Because of the structure of influence that we have allowed to develop, the tiniest fraction of the one percent have the effective power to block reform desired by the 99-plus percent.
These few don't exercise their power directly. None can simply buy a congressman, or dictate the results they want. But because they are the source of the funds that fuel elections, their influence operates as a filter on which policies are likely to survive. It is as if America ran two elections every cycle, one a money election and one a voting election. To get to the second, you need to win the first. But to win the first, you must keep that tiniest fraction of the one percent happy. Just a couple thousand of them banding together is enough to assure that any reform gets stopped.
Some call this plutocracy. Some call it a corrupted aristocracy. I call it unstable. Just as America learned under the Articles of Confederation, where one state had the power to block the resolve of the rest, a nation in which so few have the power to block change is not a nation that can thrive.
The only way to cure this disease is to spread the power to fund elections more broadly. Just as democracy spreads the vote among the millions it calls citizens, representative democracy in America must spread the power to fund elections among a group larger than those named "Lester." We need a world were at least 30 million must band together to block the reform of 300 million -- not this world, where 30,000 can assure that no sensible reform can happen.
* * *
It is on practically every issue that matters. A nation that can't resolve sensibly every issue that matters is a nation that will fail.
Lessig offers some proposals for public financing of campaign, but it will not matter unless there is a Constitutional amendment addressing the issue that overturns the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Buckley v. Valeo (money = speech) and Citizens United v. FEC (corporations are people with privileges superior to individuals).
UPDATE: The DISCLOSE Act had a 51-vote majority, but it wasn't enough to break the GOP filibuster of the bill on Monday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on the floor of the Senate, "If this flood of outside money continues, the day after the election, 17 angry old white men will wake up and realize they just bought the country. That's a sad commentary. About 60 percent or more of these outside dollars [contributing $10,000 or more] are coming from these 17 people."