Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Let's get the money out of politics

That's been my mantra for a long time.  I honestly believe that no meaningful change can come without a complete overhaul of how elections are paid for.  Politicians will always be beholden to the people who gave them the most money.  And I also think it borders on criminal to spend so much money on political advertising when those dollars could be put to much better use... education easily springs to mind.

As the economy gets worse and we follow the money, we see that many millions of dollars have gone from the Wall Street mega banks into the coffers of our elected officials.  

Check out some of these facts and figures from Americans for Campaign Reform 
(Source: Center for Responsive Politics analysis of campaign finance
disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission, 1990-2008)

‣ Individuals and PACs in finance, insurance, and real
estate have contributed over $2 billion to federal campaigns
since 1990, the largest sector by a factor of two

‣ Wall Street contributions increased five-fold from $60
million in 1990 to $311 million in 2008

‣ Members of the U.S. House and Senate received an
average $142,663 and $1,042,663, respectively, in
Wall Street contributions as of July 28, 2008

Both Parties Profit from Wall Street Funds
‣ Wall Street donors consistently favored the political
party in power with higher contributions in eight out
of ten elections between 1990-2008

‣ Republicans received 55% of total Wall Street funds
from 1990-2008, compared with 44% for Democrats

‣ The top twenty recipients of Wall Street contributions
include Senators and Representatives regarded as
among the most liberal and the most conservative
Members in Congress

Wall Street Targets Regulatory Committees
‣ Wall Street contributions to House and Senate candidates
in 2008 were heavily concentrated on members
of the relevant banking, commerce, and tax committees
responsible for industry regulation

‣ Nine of the top ten House recipients of Wall Street
contributions in 2008 served on the Financial Services
(6) or Ways and Means (3) committees

‣ Top-ten members of the relevant House committees
received an average $1.5 million from Wall Street in
2008, ten times the overall average in the House

‣ The top ten Senate recipients of Wall Street contributions
in 2008 were either candidates for President or
members of the Commerce, Banking, Finance, and
Budget committees, or in Senate leadership.

‣ Their average in Wall Street Contributions was $14.3
million, or $2.2 million excluding giving to major
presidential candidates.

Top ten Wall Street contributors, 2008
Rank /Organization /Amount
1  Goldman Sachs  $4,287,701
2  Citigroup Inc  $3,438,497
3  JP Morgan Chase & Co  $3,029,568
4  Morgan Stanley  $2,842,517
5  National Assn of Realtors  $2,525,300
6  UBS AG  $2,256,060
7  American Bankers Assn  $2,029,088
8  Lehman Brothers  $1,921,167
9  Merrill Lynch  $1,824,505
10  Bank of America  $1,800,504

Stunning, don't you think?  And we wonder why our elected officials are spending so many of our taxpayer dollars bailing out the banks?  Those same elected officials are owned by the banks!

So, what can we do?  Well, we can contact the people who represent us in Washington and DEMAND a change.  Legislation is already before Congress.  The Fair Elections Now Act was introduced to both houses on March 31.  Introduced by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Representatives John Larson (D-CT) and Walter Jones (R-NC), the Fair Elections Now Act provides a new, small donor-driven approach to campaign finance.

I spoke at length with Dan Weeks, president of Americans for Campaign Reform today on Air America Radio.  Click here to listen to our interview (runtime 28:53)