The Delusion that Money Equals Speech

House Members Give Their Families Millions in Campaign Cash – ABC News.

Politicians take care of their families.  Most people do the same.  This should surprise no one and really nothing in this article should be overly shocking to read.  But the implications of what this means about campaign donations should at least get your attention.

The fact that campaign laws are not stringent on where the money flows and sometimes this money can make its way into the pockets of politicians and their family members is logical.  (Keep in mind this article only mentions family and doesn’t say anything about money going to friends, business partners, etc.)  Politicians make these laws therefore it is in their interest for those laws to be lax so they can manage that money as they please.

What about the old adage that “money equals speech”?  This idea says a person calling their elected representative and voicing their concerns over a piece of legislation is the same as another person (or corporation, since they are people too according to the Supreme Court) donating a large amount of money to that representative and, likely in many cases, not speaking a word about policy with this official.  Let’s put this idea to the test with a couple of thought experiments.

First, let’s take money out of the equation and look at speech in a democracy and how it would work.  A candidate for office walks into a room with one hundred people.  Each person takes turns voicing their opinion.  The candidate takes these opinions under consideration and then models his views around the most popular (potentially not the best) ideas among the people in the room.  There we have most people’s idea of democracy where each speech and person has the same value.

Now let’s factor in money and the reality politicians can filter that money to their friends and family.  Same one hundred people in the room except this time ninety-nine speak and one sits silent.  That one, we’ll call him Enron Halliburton of the famed WorldCom clan, hands the politician (or their Super PAC) a check that has a crooked number and a whole bunch of zeros behind it.  In the interest of putting caviar on the table and staying at five-star hotels while campaigning in the future, who is the politician likely to keep in mind when voting on legislation?  Some may say his loyalty still bends toward the ninety-nine in the interest of winning the most votes.  But if that candidate is in a district that has been gerrymandered so his party wins easily, then what?

Let’s try it another way knowing politicians stand to profit from this donated money.  Say you are a business just starting out and you are the only game in town offering a certain service.  One of the factors playing a big role in your decisions will be the location where you spend your time and set up shop.  You’ve done your homework on two options and noticed the following differences.  One location has only a few very wealthy people but you can adjust the price of your service where your profit is six figures.  The other location has a larger population but most are in poverty and your profit is only half of the first location.  Which are you likely to spend more time and give your attention in the interest of making money?

Now read it again and exchange the word politician for business knowing the politician is in a non-competitive district.

The idea that money is speech in a democracy has been and always will be one of the most ludicrous assertions ever made.  If this needed any further proof, consider one last point.  Typically in close elections large corporate donors do not donate money to one candidate.  Why?  Because they donate similar amounts to both candidates of each political party (have fun poking around the FEC’s website finding out how true that is).  Are they donating for ideological reasons?  Obviously not and any argument suggesting that would be downright absurd.  They are simply buying influence with their money.

Oops.  My apologies for the typo.  They are simply buying influence with their $peech.

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