One of the things I often hear people in this country decry is the influence of money in politics. “We need to get the money out of politics”. They proclaim that politicians are in the back pockets of corporations, that individuals and entities of great financial means are buying the allegiance of politicians by disproportionately contributing to campaign funding. This of course is designed to encourage the candidates to move legislation in the direction that greatly benefits these benefactors.
I decided to follow this down the proverbial rabbit hole to dissect the function of this monetary influence. A candidate uses their heaps of donations to fund their campaign. This funding enables, at the broadest level, the candidates to get their name out there, via newsletters, brochures, campaign signs, television and radio ads, internet presence, etc.
Some of these forms of advertisement are designed to give bullet points as to the positions these candidates take. Others are intended to show how their opponents are less qualified or appropriate for the political positions they are running for. In many cases the advertising is simply a display of their name and the position they are running for, to pull them into the awareness of the constituents where they may have been previously unknown to a subset of the voters.
So let me give a thumbnail sketch of the process: The more money a candidate gets, the more they can put their faces and names out there. The more often constituents get a glimpse of their names or see 15 seconds of their television ads, the higher the odds of them getting elected.
Does that mean we are basing or votes on how often we see someone’s name? Do we feel closer to determining a candidate is worthy of making laws based on a 15 second sound bite? This must be the case, enough for the big hitters to be willing to donate a gazillion dollars to make it happen.
These sound bite based, non-informative, fast food campaigns work because we don’t want to. We take the Homer Simpson approach to political participation, wanting “the quickest, cheapest, easiest way” to determine who will get our votes.
What’s the best way we can keep financial influence out of politics? Make ourselves less easy to buy with a sound bite or blind party loyalty. We can do our due diligence by researching which legislation they were key participants, or reference their voting records at the very least. If we choose our political leaders by investing 15 seconds of our attention to a television commercial or a two paragraph blurb in a voter’s pamphlet we will continue to get what we pay for.