Corporate interests seem to influence politicians more than ever before. Americans are asking if our government is still a true democracy or if corporate money has taken control.
Note: Some quotes in this piece have been lightly edited for grammar.
Bought and Paid
One curious citizen recently pointed out that the majority of House representatives in the Committee of Energy and Commerce accept donations from the fossil fuel industry.
Problem With PACs
The statistic was in no way unique. Politicians in the House and Senate often accept large donations from PACs (political action committees) representing various corporations.
Democracy In Name Only
The size and scope of PAC donations are worrying to some Americans. One person asked, “Are we becoming (or are we already) a managed democracy, where we have what appears to be a democracy, but real control of the country is in the hands of corporations with the most money?”
Country of Aristocrats
One person said that the US has never given all of its citizens equal power. “I mean, at the beginning, it was democracy but for basically white aristocratic land owners only.”
More Like an Oligarchy
The same commenter went on to say that “America has become more democratic over time in certain ways… but it also became more oligarchical in other ways.”
Corrupt As Ever
Others agreed that corporations and wealthy citizens have always had a bigger say in American politics. “Go back to the era of the railroad barons, or Grant’s administration, and I suspect about any other and you’ll find corruption,” one person said. “We still just stumble through, as best we can.”
Still, many thought that our Democracy was in a particularly dark and corrupt era. “With dark money, super PACs, and regulatory capture, our politicians fundraise as much as they are governing,” an American said. “It’s making us susceptible to foreign influence.”
How To Fix It
Some commenters jumped in with suggestions on how to turn the government into a purer form of democracy, citing ideas that many commenters seconded.
“We can’t have anywhere near a true democracy until 1) we have term limits for Congress and the Senate, 2) make lobbying illegal and call it what it is: bribery, and 3) adopt a code of ethics for the Supreme Court,” one person said.
A few commenters thought the problem was cyclical. “These things have tended to go in cycles,” said one commenter. “And we seem to currently be in the part of the cycle where corporations have grown to the point where people are getting concerned about just how big they’ve gotten and just how much influence they have.”
Give It Time
These commenters thought that the shift of power was already in the works. “Many people have started trying to push back against that and to try to get things more under control and not so tilted in the favor of corporations,” one person explained, going on to say it would just take time.
It’s All Good
Some thought that there was no need to worry about campaign donations for PACs. They noted that these donations, though large on paper, were relatively small given what it takes to run a successful campaign.
They Need the Money
“Campaign donations do not create a conflict of interest…Campaigns cost money. It’s a fact of life, and efforts to restrict donation run into major First Amendment issues that are far more important to me than whether someone took money from the fossil fuel industry,” one person said.
Always About ROI
But many pushed back on that idea. “Companies don’t generally spend money for fun,” one person responded. “They only do it when there is a return on investment [ROI]. The ROI here is action by legislators which is a conflict of interest, by definition.”
Trump Was (Almost) the Answer
A few went on to note that corporate interests influencing politics is an issue that Democrats and Republicans often agree on. And, as one person said, “Trump somewhat capitalized on this frustration which the public has, but then of course had no intention of doing anything about it.”
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