The China Society for Human Rights Studies on December 26 issued an article titled “Money Politics Exposes the Hypocrisy of ‘U.S.-Style Democracy.’” The full text is as follows:
Money Politics Exposes the Hypocrisy of “US-Style Democracy”
The China Society for Human Rights Studies (CSHRS)
The United States always praises itself as the “beacon” of democracy, advocating that people have the right to participate in public affairs, elections, and supervision over their governments. Nevertheless, in reality, given the severe divisions in US politics and society, a large number of US citizens do not have a chance to participate in politics. The main reason for this phenomenon is money politics. Money politics deprives the people of their democratic rights, suppresses the expression of voters’ true will, and creates de facto political inequality. In recent years in the United States, the wealthy class has exerted an increasingly important influence on politics while the common people’s influence on politics has declined. Money politics exposes the hypocrisy of US democracy.
1. Money has infused the entire US political system.
“Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” This widely circulated comment accurately and sharply reveals the essence of contemporary US politics. Money is the driving force of US politics. The huge and complex political machine of the United States can only get started with the fuel of money. Money is the lubricant of US politics. Without money, US politics cannot run smoothly. Money politics runs through all aspects of US elections, legislation, and governance, and has become a persistent disease in US society.
Under such circumstances, elections, whose original purpose is to express the will of the voters, determine the political direction, and choose qualified leaders, have been reduced to money games. The money politics of the United States has distorted public opinion and turned elections into a “one-man show” of the wealthy class. Money is deeply involved in every aspect of US elections. Raising funds is a prerequisite for a candidate to run in an election at any level. Without enough money, it is simply impossible to compete for any important political position. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the election costs of the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates have increased rapidly from $700 million in 2004 to $1 billion in 2008 and $2 billion in 2012. In 2016, US elections, including presidential and congressional elections, cost a total of $6.6 billion, making it the most expensive political election in US history. The cost of the US midterm elections has also risen rapidly. The four midterm elections held between 2002 and 2014 cost $2.18 billion, $2.85 billion, $3.63 billion, and $3.84 billion, respectively, and the one held in 2018 cost as much as $5.2 billion. In the 2018 midterm election, the average cost of winning a Senate seat was $19.4 million, and the average cost of winning a House seat exceeded $1.5 million. The high election expenses have greatly raised the threshold for election participation and eliminated the possibility of the vast majority of people participating in political elections. Only a few people who are capable of raising large amounts of election funds can join the US political elections. This has undoubtedly provided the wealthy class and interest groups with numerous chances to win candidates over through money.
In addition to publicly registered election funds, a large amount of secret funds and “dark money” have also been injected into the US election activities. As reported by National Broadcasting Company (NBC) News in 2018, as the United States Department of the Treasury (USDT) announced that it would no longer require most non-profit organizations to report their source of donations, the transparency of election funding would be significantly reduced. Back in 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued a ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission¹, loosening restrictions on political donations. Since then, “dark money” has kept flooding into the US elections, constantly creating new records. The “dark money” that flooded into the 2010 midterm election was $16 million, and that in the 2014 midterm elections increased to $53 million. During the 2018 midterm election, the “dark money” spent by outside groups other than those of the candidates skyrocketed to $98 million. Over 40 percent of TV commercials broadcast by these outside groups to influence congressional elections are funded by secret donors.
2. Money politics is an inevitable result of the US capitalist system.
The United States is a capitalist country, and US democracy is a political form through which the bourgeois rules. Given this, US democracy naturally reflects the will of the capitalists and serves their interests. The most distinctive feature of US democracy is elections. Through elections, politicians who meet the requirements of the bourgeoisie are promoted to national leadership positions to exercise state power. To achieve this goal, the United States has designed a sophisticated political and electoral system to screen candidates and voters at various levels to ensure that only those who satisfy the needs of the rich people are elected. Initially, the United States imposed restrictions on voter eligibility, depriving large numbers of US citizens (such as those from racial minority groups and women) of the right to vote. Later, money gradually became the most important means for the bourgeoisie to control elections. After entering the 20th century, especially after the 1960s, with the popularity and development of the mass media, the status of money in elections continued to rise. Money is a selector that eliminates political participants from the bottom of society by making it difficult for the representatives of the poor to become candidates. The rich people choose their qualified political agents and make them candidates and winners of elections by funding campaigns. Due to this system design, the connection between economic interests and political power is naturally close. By participating in political elections, the rich people acquire political guarantees for their economic interests. With the help of money, politicians are able to run in elections. In order to maintain their dominant position in the distribution of national resources, the rich have a strong incentive to intervene in political operations and seek their spokespersons in governments at all levels from the federal level to the local level. As the rich people have the largest share of social wealth, they can meet the funding requirements of politicians and turn them into their political representatives. With the development of communication technology, politicians need more money to participate in and win a normal election. Money, therefore, becomes the starting point and ending point of this “chain” of party politics. Candidates of the two major political parties in the United States are merely representatives of different factions within the bourgeoisie.
The activities of interest groups vividly explain the connotation of money politics. Interest groups refer to alliances formed by groups and individuals who have common political goals, economic interests, and social backgrounds for the purpose of maximizing their common goals and interests. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution has conferred the supreme legal validity upon interest groups. The purpose of interest groups is to participate in the power operation process and induce public power departments to formulate relevant policies to safeguard and expand their interests. The unique political system of the United States featuring the two-tiered federal system and the separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers provides ample space for interest groups, making it possible for them to exert pressure on governments at all levels to influence US politics. Interest groups have struck deep roots in the US administration, Congress, and judicial system. Interest groups, political parties, and governments have become the three pillars of US politics. There are many ways for interest groups to operate. They can affect congressional legislation and future government decisions by providing funds, directly participating in the election process and helping certain candidates win elections; they can create public opinion and influence government decision-making by advertising, giving radio and television speeches, holding press conferences, producing movies, and adopting other methods; and they can exert a direct influence on government decisions by lobbying legislators and decision-makers. Decisions of the US government and congressional legislation are often the result of the competition among different interest groups.
Interest groups are a typical example of money politics, and their activities are inseparable from money. Activities of the interest groups are the “hub” that connects money and power, and their function is to convert money into political influence. With more abundant funds, an interest group will enjoy greater political influence, and most of the money is in the hands of the rich. Poor people can also form their own interest groups, but due to limited financial resources, their interest groups can never exert much influence. It is the enterprise groups or industry organizations that can really exert great influence. This is because these interest groups have sufficient funds. For instance, between 2000 and 2010, US enterprises spent 10 times as much on elections as US labor unions did. After 2010, the expenditure limitations on the political spending of enterprises and labor unions were lifted. Under such circumstances, many labor unions are still unable to increase their political spending as they have reached the upper limit of their capacity to pay. On the contrary, enterprises’ political expenses have increased sharply, and their political influence has expanded rapidly. By increasing their political investment, enterprises of course plan to maximize their own interests in policy-making.
Lobbying is an important way to implement money politics. Lobbying is a political phenomenon peculiar to the United States, and lobbying-induced corruption is an inherent dysfunction of the US political system. The legal basis of lobbying is the First Amendment to the US Constitution. In the spirit of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, the United States has formulated laws that legalize lobbying activities. The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of 1938, the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act of 1946, the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) of 1995, and the Lobbying Disclosure Technical Amendments Act of 1998 form the legal system that regulates lobbying activities. Under these laws, the United States allows groups of people to form interest groups and compete against one another, affecting congressional legislation and government decisions. Therefore, political lobbying becomes an integral part of the US political process. Interest groups hire lobbyists to lobby members of the US Congress and their aides, influence the formulation and amendment of bills, and seek their own interests. Over the past 40-odd years, the lobbying industry in the United States has developed rapidly, showing explosive growth. In 1971, there were only 175 registered lobbyists in the United States, but the number quickly increased to 2,500 in 1981 and to 13,700 in 2009. This means that, on average, each member of the US Congress, including the House of Representatives and the Senate, is lobbied by more than 20 lobbyists. According to available (and incomplete) statistics, there are more than 2,000 lobbying companies in Washington D.C. Interest groups’ spending on lobbyists is increasing day by day, reaching $1.44 billion in 1998 and soaring to $3.33 billion in 2011, with a growth rate of 131 percent over those 14 years.