Does our government represent the people? The 108th Congress of the United States (June 20, 2003) identified our form of government as, “a federal, representative, democratic republic, an indivisible union of 50 sovereign States.” The 108th Congress further elucidated stating, “Along with the constitutional responsibilities which accompany citizenship, such as obeying laws and paying taxes, the citizen is afforded a wide range of rights and opportunities to influence the making of public policy by the Government.” (Emphasis added). Was and is this really the case or was the 108th Congress so out of touch with how they actually function that they believed this? Or were they just lying to the American people?
A study conducted by Gilens and Page (2014) examined nearly 2000 public opinion surveys and compared the results of these polls with policies that became law. They compared what the public wanted to what the government did. This study found that the opinions of 90% of Americans have essentially no effect on laws passed. To quote their findings, “…the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” (Emphasis added). Economic elites, which include the mega-rich, and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent influence on U.S. government policy, while the average citizens have little or no independent influence.
Let’s look at some examples. The pharmaceuticals and health products industry, in 2020, spent about $306 million on lobbying. In 2021, special interests spent $3.73 billion on lobby efforts; $1 billion were spent on business, finance, insurance, and real estate lobbyists; $480 million on communications and electronics lobbyists; $300 million on energy and natural resource lobbyists; $255 million on transportation lobbyists; $150 million on agribusiness lobbyists; and $118 million on defense lobbyists, just to identify a few.
Money wins elections. It’s that simple. Ninety percent of the time, the candidate with the most money wins. Two-thirds of political donations come from 0.2% of Americans and members of Congress spend 30% to 70% of their time fundraising. In 2014, to win a U.S. Senate seat, a candidate had to raise $14,351 every single day. Just .05% of Americans donate more than $10,00 in any election. What this means is, of the 168 million registered voters in 2020, 8.4 million would have donated more than $10,000. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where the candidates got the rest of their campaign money.
According to Represent.US, over a 5-year period, the 200 most politically active companies in the U.S. spent $5.8 billion influencing Congress while reaping a $4.4 trillion windfall in taxpayer support.
Let us put this in perspective today. What is the most divisive and most highly politicized issue today? GUN CONTROL!! What you have here are pro-gun politicians on the right who frame their position in the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution and anti-gun politicians on the left who frame their position on public safety concerns. What will decide this issue, the Supreme Court not withstanding, is which side can generate the most dollars to buy the most politicians.
Maybe the Gettysburg Address should be updated to read, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the politicians, buy the people and for special interests shall not parish from this earth”.
To see a visual summary of the Gilens study, follow the link:
Gilens, M., & Page, B. (2014). Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens. Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens, 12(3), 564-581.