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Influence of Money on Politics
Kah Ying Choo
In 1995, an independent study commissioned by the Congress determined that no more B-2 bombers should be built in 1995.  At the cost of $493 million per plane, the B-2 bombers were costly.  Furthermore, the Pentagon had declared that they did not want any more B-2 bombers. However, one year later, members of the Congress voted to allocate funding to build another B-2 bomber.  Why did members of the Congress agree to this needless expenditure?
One possible reason: The political action committee (PAC) of Northrup Grumman, the builder of B-2 bombers, donated $320,775 to members of Congress in 1995.  This amount was twice the sum given to Congress in 1993 and 1994.  In fact, when another bill was proposed to eliminate funding from the B-2 in June 1996, Northrup Grumman gave another $75,200 to finance campaigns of members of the Congress (Beaulieu, 1996, p. 15).

This incident testifies to our politicians’ excessive financial dependence on well-endowed donors.  More importantly, it demonstrates how these donors have played a significant role in shaping public policy.  By paying substantial amounts of money to politicians, corporations and rich individuals have been able to gain direct access to political representatives and lobby effectively for their causes.  Concomitantly, low-income and poor people who do not offer financial contributions do not have the opportunity to voice their opinions on behalf of their issues (Beaulieu, 1996, p. 15).

According to Public Campaign (2000), an organization that is dedicated to the creation of a public financing system, 80 percent of donors who contributed $200 or more had an annual family income of more than $100,000 a year, with five percent having an income of $50,000 or less in 1996. Therefore, even though U.S.
household with at total income of $100,000 or more  constitute 12 percent of the total number of households in the U.S., 80 percent of these households exert the greatest influence on public policy.  The Center for Responsive Politics also reports that almost 70 percent of the PAC contributions in the 2000 election stems from business interests, 21 percent from labor and 11 percent from other groups (in Public Campaign, 2000, p. 5).

Research studies have also revealed that money donors do not donate large sums of money for altruistic reasons or affirmation of their political beliefs.  Based on a survey of donors in the 1996 presidential elections, Francia and others (1999) report that 76 percent of the respondents stated that their primary reason for donating to political candidates was to shape government policies.  A 2000 poll conducted by Lake Snell Perry and Associates involving 1,000 voters and 200 donors also revealed that 54 percent of the donors spoke directly to a major elected official compared to nine percent of the voters (Lake & Borosage, 2000, p. 2).  Therefore, it is evident that money exerts a significant impact in determining which political constituents are heard by their political representatives.  These studies demonstrate clearly that the donor class that represents only a minority of the nation has considerably more latitude in influencing government policy than the majority of the population in the nation.
The following section offers a sampling of concrete examples of how  the Congress has been influenced by their donors and acted in accordance with their interests.
    Automotive Industry: Only after the tragedy involving Firestone tires on Ford Explorers that resulted in the deaths of over 100 people did Congress finally decide to update the 30-year-old standards for tires in October 2000.  Auto safety experts believe that the long overdue legislation to improve tire standards is insufficient in providing genuine safety to the public. As Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook puts it, “Congress passed a face-saving bill for industry, not a life-saving bill for the public” (qtd. in Public Campaign, 2000, p. 6).  One of the primary reasons for Congress’ protective stance towards the auto industry is that it has contributed over $12 million to political campaigns in 2000, up from nearly $11 million in 1998 (Public Campaign, 2000, p. 6).

    Telecommunications: Passed in 1996, the Telecommunications Act was touted by Congress as a means to increase competition in the industry, decrease prices and improve service for the public.  In reality, the new legislation essentially deregulates the industry, thus enabling large telecommunication corporations to merge with one another and increase prices at the expense of the public.  Telecommunications corporations contributed $3.5 million to members of the Congress in 1995.  The two most enthusiastic supporters of the new legislation, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Larry Pressler who received $103,165 from telecom PACs and House Telecommunications and Finance Subcommittee Chairman Jack Fields who received $97,500, were the two chief beneficiaries of the corporations’ generosity (Beaulieu, 1996, p. 16).

    Ergonomics: In response to rising injuries in work environments because of increasing mechanization, President Clinton established new workplace safety regulations on ergonomics.  However, in March 2001, the new regulations were repealed with voting results that followed the party lines. This reversal of policies can be attributed to campaign contributions.  During the 2000 elections, corporations exceeded the contributions of labor leaders by a ratio of 1,000:1 (Public Campaign, 2001, p. 12).

In spite of the democratic principles of the American political system, politicians cannot be considered to be true representatives of their people.  It is little wonder that American voters and donors concur that politicians are not governed by their political beliefs.  Rather, their opinions and behavior are heavily influenced by the vast resources of their political contributors (Lake & Borosage, 2000, pp. 1-2).  Even more significantly, these politicians are not representative of their constituents when they lend their ears solely to those who can pay.  The reduction of federal taxes for corporations from 39 percent in the 1950s to 17 percent in the 1980s is symptomatic of the political clout of business interests.  Similarly, the failure of Congress to pass a health-care reform bill for many years reflects the capacity of wealthy contributors to sabotage legislations that will genuinely improve the quality of health care for ordinary Americans (Beaulieu, 1996, p. 18).  Unless political reforms occur to sever the connection between politicians and big business interests, Americans will continue to lose their trust and faith in the political system.
Beaulieu, D. (1996, October). The public should finance election campaigns. U.S. Catholic, 61(10), 15-20.
Francia, P.L., Goldberg, R.E., Green, J.C., Herrnson, P.S., & Wilcox, C. (1999). Individual donors in the 1996 federal elections.  In J.C. Green (Ed.), Financing the 1996 Election (pp. 127-154). Armonk: M.E. Sharpe.
Lake, C., & Borosage, R. (2000, August 2).  Money talks. In The Nation.com [Online], 1-5.  Available: http://past.thenation.com/e2k/recent/poll.shtml [2002, January 23].
Public Campaign. (2000, October). Hard facts: Hard money in the 2000 elections.  [Online], 1-10. Available: www.publicampaign.org/hardmoney.html [2002, January 23].
Public Campaign. (2001, March).  Why the battle over hard money matters: Hard facts on hard money. [Online], 1-14.  Available: www.publicampaign.org/hardfacts/ [2002, January 23].


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