I read a couple of articles over the weekend that demonstrate the ubiquitous role money has in our political system today.
First Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post wrote about Twitter establishing a political action committee. Twitter has an abundance of interests related to surveillance and internet freedom regulations, so of course the company would want to do what they can to influence policy makers in Washington. There is however, a deep and disturbing irony in this action. Twitter is a social networking service with 200 million users and views itself as the world's "digital town square." It has been instrumental in citizen led political uprisings against totalitarian and despotic regimes across the globe. Yet the company finds it necessary to set up a PAC here in the U.S. which will give large donations to legislators as a necessary way to influence policy. Twitter certainly has the constitutional right to enter the political arena more formally by supporting legislators with campaign contributions. But I hope for a future in which our political system rewards legislators for being more interested in the voices of his or her constituents than political contributions.
The second article that caught my attention is by Eric Lipton in the New York Times about House freshmen legislators raising campaign funds from the banking industry and Wall Street. The article demonstrates how the enormous pressure on freshmen Congressmen and women to raise money sets them up to be easy pickings for wealthy interests seeking to influence regulations coming out of the Financial Services committee. Raising large sums of money is clearly one of the ways in which freshmen legislators can scare off potential challengers and prove their value to their party leadership. But this system allows wealthy interests to advance their own agenda by taking advantage of the perverse incentives for legislators to raise huge sums of money. One industry lobbyist brazenly said, with regards to delivering on their agenda, "It is almost like investing in a first-round draft pick for the NBA or NFL There is potential there. So we make an investment, and we are hopeful that investment produces a return." Imagine! Next time you talk to your investment counselor you may have the option to invest in stocks, bonds, real estate or members of Congress! I am sure that most members of Congress, as well as candidates, would deeply resent the implication that they are investment options for the banking industry and Wall Street. Based on my observations most members of Congress are people of high integrity and character. But the current campaign finance system, if left unchanged, will continue to create similar attitudes in the minds of the public who already have record setting low approval of Congress.
Hopefully all of this will cause additional motivation on Capitol Hill and elsewhere for Congress to make positive and constructive changes to our campaign system. It is badly needed.