The New American Politics: Voting with Dollars
Money didn’t win the Wisconsin recall for Scott Walker. Wisconsinites voted for, and got, what they wanted. Twice. Still, this election season marks a tipping point for American Politics. We are at the moment when money is poised to replace voting as the way that elections are decided.
This is not the first time elected offices were for sale. Around the dawn of the 20th Century, local government seats were commonly bought from and sold by local party bosses. We also can’t forget the “company towns” of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. In many of them, the mayor and sheriff were officially chosen by the owner of the mine or factory. (These company-owned towns led directly to the formation of labor unions.) And Meg Whitman – lacking any sort of qualifications for the job — recently tried to buy herself a California governorship.
But as far back as I can remember this is the first time that individual people were rich enough to buy their own, pet presidential candidates. Newt Gingrich would have flamed out in 45 days or less without billionaire Sheldon Adelson personally funding his campaign. So the game has clearly changed.
This influence of money pervades both sides. You need only look to how quickly President Obama’s surrogates – Cory Booker, Deval Patrick and even Bill Clinton morphed into finance industry surrogates when the president took a small stab at vulture capitalism. This mayor, governor and former-president-philanthropist depend heavily on the finance industry. They’d gotten a call, it seems.
Most recently it was Wisconsin, where liberals learned they can no longer simply rely on labor unions to get out the vote. Something more is required.
So if money is more powerful than votes these days, the next election will surely turn on an unprecedented barrage of negative television advertising funded by some really unsavory characters – gambling moguls like Sheldon Adelson and big polluters like the Koch brothers. How can the average American have even a tiny bit of influence?
Well, when money is top dog, so are consumers. Two bright spots in our current politics were successful consumer boycotts of corporations that advertise on hate radio and fund ALEC. Consumers convinced dozens of corporations to fundamentally alter their advertising and corporate giving strategies. Sure, these boycotts weren’t terminally successful, but as strategic works in progress, they provide invaluable lessons about the power of consumerism and Internet organizing.Continued on the next page