Money and Politics in the US - Essay Sample

Published: 2021-08-10
1790 words
7 pages
15 min to read
University of Richmond
Type of paper: 
Research paper
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American politics is an expensive endeavor. Candidates interested in vying for political positions require a significant amount of resources to sell their agenda and policies. Thus, the situation makes democracy and costly affair since money plays a vital role. Initially, there was no legislation or governing institutions overseeing political donations and contributions; the whole subject was left to the candidate and parties to come up with innovative ways of raising and spending money (McKay, 2017). It took many years before an initial campaign financing Act to pass at the federal level. Finally, laws controlling political expenditure started taking effect due to the public outrage of how money bought power (Malbin, 2006). This paper analyzes American politics and the role money plays, examines the structure of the political system and the main participants in the election as well as the efforts that would assist in diluting the role money plays in politics. Although the political system in the US is considered as one of the most democratic in the world, it may not be since money plays a huge role in the acquisition of power; thus, there is need to devise ways of making the process free and fair.

History of Campaign Financing in the US

Before money became a major ingredient of American politics, there was minimal attention on purchasing vast amounts of ads and media coverage. The participating candidates would make use of meetings, public addressing forums, and print media to enhance their reach to the citizens (Smith, 2012). In some instances, the ads were under sole ownership, but on many occasions, supporters enhanced the entire endeavor. When mass media became popular, the whole process changed utterly, and campaigns became more expensive as money was required to buy media time. In current scenarios, millions of dollars go to an election primarily in advertising. Notwithstanding the modifications in campaign funding strategies, one constant factor that has remained is the role money plays (McKay, 2017). Those with adequate resources at their disposal and power use them to their advantage in influencing the politics. They range from corporations and conglomerates, the elites of the South and natural resources enterprises that have attempted to use their money to buy political power from politicians for centuries (Pinto-Duschinsky, 2002). Due to the human nature of the candidates, they are thus susceptible to corruption, and such attempts from the elite are in effect.

Campaign financing in the US is the financing of electoral campaigns at the local, state and federal levels. At the national level, the campaign finance law is enacted by the Congress and enforced by the Federal Electoral Commission (Smith, 2012). Although most of the campaign money is privately sourced, public financing is available for those who qualify to vie for the Presidency during both the general election and primaries (Janicki & Connecticut, 2001). Eligibility requirements are vital to those eying federal funding and are subject to spending limits. Races for non-federal offices are under the oversight of local or state law. A large number of the states allow for some level of union and corporate contributions. Some states have limits on possible contributions from individuals while others have no capping at all.

Campaign Financing in the US

Majority of citizens in the US believe that money has too much influence in political campaigns and the feeling cuts across Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. In the year 2008, candidates for independent groups, political parties and offices spent about $5 billion on the elections (Box-Steffensmeier & Schier, 2009). The presidential amount was about $2 billion. Over a billion dollars got spent on two candidates namely Barrack Obama and John McCain (Box-Steffensmeier & Schier, 2009). During the 2010 midterm election cycle, a total of about $3 billion got spent on the elections. On average, a senator spends about $9 million while a member of the House of Representatives spends $1 million (Smith, 2012). In 2012, the total cost of the election cycle in the United States was at least $6 billion, and in matching that, the 2016 elections were even more expensive than any other period in history as candidates lined up billionaire mega-donors and independent political groups (McKay, 2017). They are allowed to accept unlimited donations and are ready to shell out big bucks. Additionally, candidates exploited loopholes in the campaign finance rules by delaying official entry into the race to raise vast sums for PACs that are supposedly required to be entirely independent of campaigns. The scenario has raised much concern about the need for change to enhance regulations and limit the influence of money.

The Political System in America

The United States in an indirect democracy, that is, people rule through the representatives they choose. Over the years, the vote has become open to more people as opposed to earlier years where only whites enjoyed the privilege. The United States constitution got drafted in the year 1787 and ratified in 1788 that established the countrys political system and the basis for its law (Woll & Binstock, 1984). The constitution anchors itself on the doctrine of separation of powers between the executive, legislature, and judiciary to ensure checks and balance. Despite the fact that America has experienced tremendous growth and change, the constitution works similar to how it was in the past, but few amendments are evident. America is a federal state with each state having its government united under the rule of the national government. There are duties delegated to the states such as drafting laws while others to the Federal state such as taxation.

The Legislature is made up of the Congress which consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate. There are 435 representatives and 100 senators, and the number depends on the size of the population's state (Woll & Binstock, 1984). The Executives primary function is to make laws, and the President is the head elected to a four-year term. The President forms the Cabinet with the approval of the Senate. There are fourteen departments headed by the Secretaries of State (Woll & Binstock, 1984). The presidential aides exercise a lot of power, and they are not members of the Cabinet. The Judiciary interprets laws and makes sure new legislation does not contradict the constitution. Each state has its constitution with their designated leader, a Governor, similar to the President.

The United States has two parties namely Democrats and Republicans. Other smaller parties do not play a significant role in the political space. No distinct difference exists between the two sides as they defend the free-enterprise society and the idea of personal freedom. Republicans are more conservative and limit government participation in the economy and are supported by the upper class (Pinto-Duschinsky, 2002). On the other hand, Democrats are more social-oriented and favor government control in many aspects of the nations activities. As a result, the many positions require representatives to enhance efficiency and effectiveness. Consequently, to get elected, candidates have to run competitive and costly campaigns. They need to raise and use private money mainly for campaign staff, office space, advertisements, and travel which are expensive. A majority of candidates who rise to power attain their goal precisely by their ability to raise adequate funds making elections a costly process.

Main Actors in Politics and the Possible Consequences

Considering that, the candidates need to source funds that would sustain and enhance their campaign machinery to improve their relevance (Pinto-Duschinsky, 2002). The state of affairs attracts many individuals into the race with varying interests either directly or indirectly. They become significant as they broaden the channels for raising money. The campaign financing Acts regulate the monetary aspect of the election and stipulate the ways and means through which contenders can raise and spend their money. Corporations and unions get eliminated from directly donating money to aspirants or national party committees. With regards to that, some of the leading political actors include lobby groups, special interest groups, Political Action Committees (PAC), bundlers, 501 organizations and 527 organizations (Hrebenar & Scott, 2015).

Lobbyists and special interest groups are among the leading players with a significant interest in politics. Lobbying refers to paid activity in which special interests hire well-connected advocates to argue particular laws in decision-making bodies such as the Congress (Pinto-Duschinsky, 2002). Lobbying is a complex phenomenon subject to complex rules often seen in the wrong light by the public and media. When not well practiced, it can lead to harsh and strict penalties. Special interest groups are members who share common concerns, and they try to influence government policies to favor their affairs (Hrebenar & Scott, 2015). Examples include prominent unions such as AFL-CIO and businesses such as National Association of Manufacturers. They actively pump money into politics based on their preferred candidates that best represent their economic well-being and that of their members.

Bundlers are people who gather contributions from many individuals in an organization or community and present the funds to the campaign. They get recognized with honorary titles and in some instances exclusive events featuring the candidate. They are an alternative to the limitation set for personal contributions. Examples are those that helped George Bush in the 2000 and 2004 campaigns.

Contributions are valid from other institutions other than personal finances through PACs, 501 organizations, and 527 organizations. They directly spend money to influence elections an example being PACs. The law allows for multiple types of PACs an illustration being Connected PACs. The category permits for donations from managers and shareholders of various corporations since direct support is not possible for labor unions and conglomerates as specified by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (Malbin, 2006). Non-connected PACs is the other category. They are institutions that are financially independent and pay for their administrative expenses using the contributions they raise as directed by provisions of the Act. The other PAC is Leadership that permits independent expenditure since elected officials and political parties cannot give more than the federal limit. It provides room for expenditure not coordinated by another candidate. Super PACs is the other group, and they may not make contributions to candidate campaigns but instead must do any political spending independently of the campaigns (Smith, 2012).

501 organizations are commonly known as social welfare organizations. They participate in campaigns but only with the sole purpose of promoting social welfare and not political advocacy. They are not mandated to disclose their donors publicly as compared to other establishments. On the other hand, 527 organizations are a type of a tax-exempt group. When in line with the law, they are not required to adhere to upper limits of contribution, and there is no restriction on who should contribute. However, they need to register with the Internal Revenue Code and publicly disclose their donors and file reports on expenditure. Political party committees may also donate funds directly to the contender subject to contribution limits (In Ewing & In Issacharoff, 2006).

Considering the financing options, it is evident that money transfers ownership from the elite to the rest. It is because they are the ones who own the resourc...

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