Who funds them informs what elected representatives talk about and what causes they champion (or not) in office.
Bill Moyers recently aired an enlightening podcast (actually, all of Moyers’ shows are enlightening) about politicians and campaign financing. I had heard before almost everything that was said, but it was described in such a way that made all of the pieces come together for me.
I had noticed with some surprise how the public seems to want one thing, but politicians just ignore it or do the opposite. We want elected officials to get something done, but our Congress remains gridlocked. After the terrible shooting at Newport, 90% of Americans wanted some sort of gun control. Nothing ended up resulting from the fervor. We want jobs. Nothing happens.
Politicians do not speak for us. They do not even speak for themselves. They are puppets of the corporations and powerful (read: rich) individuals that support them and their campaigns. They cannot say or do anything that would jeopardize the funding they receive.
If we want to know what side of an issue they will actually stand on in Congress—if they will stand at all rather than just give lip service to it—we need to take a look at who funds them. But too much of the funding is from dark money, money given without a clear paper trail showing who the donor is.
So if I want my elected representatives to speak for me and other Americans (whether liberals, conservative, or something entirely different), I need the source of funding to change. The funding must come from me, from you, from us the people.
Public financing of campaigns (and only public financing). It sticks in my craw, the idea that we would be funding what seems to be a farcical parody of the democratic process. But with public financing, we may actually have a different outcome: politicians speaking to us and addressing our concerns rather than enacting law (or not enacting law) to follow the whims of the rich.
Another possible benefit from public financing: the politicians may speak to all of us, not just speak platitudes to the middle class. I have noticed, none so poignantly as when I wasn’t a part of the middle class, how politicians ignore the lower class and those in poverty. They don’t speak to them, and only speak of them to appease the moral conscience of the middle class.
I recall a joke Robin Williams made about how politicians should wear the insignia of their financial backers the same way that racecar drivers do. With names splayed across cars and clothing, we know who funds racecar drivers. Wouldn’t it be great if politicians were forced to advertise who their sponsors are? It certainly isn’t you or me.