“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed,” said United States president, Abraham Lincoln, on Nov. 21, 1864.
His foresight could not have been more accurate. Over 150 years later, we live in a country where the top 1/10th of one percent of the population owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.
The wealthy elite are able to use their wealth to bribe and corrupt any preferred political candidates legally, using super-PAC donations and lobbying to promote policy changes and legislation, which advances their financial agenda, often at the expense of the rest of the population or the environment.
Big money is in tight control of the United States government and America is pushing further away from the democratic utopia it strives to be. The ordinary American citizen has little to no say in the legislature passed in Washington D.C.
According to a recent Princeton study, the United States’ political system is slipping away from true democracy and pushing its way toward a type of government system defined as an oligarchy, where wealth, and a small group of people, controls legislature and policy rather than democratic elections. Researchers analyzed 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002 and proved “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”
The shift in power took place gradually throughout America’s industrial revolution. Conservative policies were enacted behind the scenes to protect big businesses, giving them rights as if they were humans.
The theory of trickle-down economics ideally gives corporations large benefits and free reign to operate however they choose, so they are able to prosper and create more jobs for the economy. This idea of a free market without any government interference would be sustainable if not for the obvious natural lust for power and profit.
This corruption is apparent in the current presidential race and the American people are catching on, particularly the younger demographic.
Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton has received over $10 million from different corporations and special interest groups, some of which were involved directly with the economic disaster of 2008. Powerful financial institutions like Citigroup Inc., Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase & Co., and Lehman Brothers have all contributed close to $1 million each to Clinton. She denies she is influenced by any of these entities, but refuses to release transcripts of her paid speeches.
According to an article from theatlantic.com, corporations now spend about $2.6 billion a year on lobbying expenses, which is more than we spend to fund the House of Representatives ($1.18 billion) and Senate ($860 million). Data from the Centre for Responsible Politics indicates what specific industries have spent on lobbying from 1998 to 2012.
The pharmaceutical industry leads the list, spending $2.6 billion. Pharmaceutical companies are allowed to raise prices on life-saving drugs that people need to survive, claiming profits will go toward “research and development,” while the highest paid biopharma CEOs earn anywhere from $10 million to $40 million annually.
The money invested on lobbying is returned tenfold if the lobbyists achieve the desired outcome. They can reform tax policies, allow themselves bigger annual bonuses, outsource jobs overseas, or give themselves the rights to denigrate the environment with unethical business practices.
Data from the Cato Institute indicates these federal tax breaks and direct subsidies cost taxpayers $100 billion. Meanwhile, American workers struggle to find jobs in an economy with a 5.7 percent unemployment rate while their tax dollars, according to The Huffington Post, are spent on subsidies for luxury items such as corporate jets ($3 billion a year) or tax deductions for CEO’s second homes ($8 billion a year).
According to HuffingtonPost.com, congress passed emergency tax legislation in early 2013 containing special tax breaks for hedge fund managers enabling them to pay a mere 15 percent federal income tax rate while their clients pay a 35 percent rate, costing taxpayers $83 billion annually.
Other research from the University of Illinois and UC Berkeley shows the fast food industry costs taxpayers $243 billion each year. This pays for indirect subsidies as fast food companies pay wages so low that their employees are forced to receive government benefits such as welfare and food stamps.
Taking “Big Money” out of Washington D.C. would be the best thing that could happen to the middle class. State representatives and senators would again represent the voice of the average citizen and not the interests of a multinational, billion dollar corporation.
Our ideal democratic society can be achieved if Americans work together to expose the corruption that fuels our political system. A new generation of genuine, honest politicians needs to revolutionize the way government is practiced in this country and lead us back to the type of government which the founders of this nation fought lifelong to preserve: a government of the people, by the people, for the people.
Timothy Cotter is a Contributing Writer for The Spectator.