April 15 is Tax Day, and most of us dutifully pay our taxes to a government that no longer represents us. Policy decisions on nearly every issue, regardless of public opinion, are decided in favor of a select few who can afford to write massive checks, host campaign fundraisers, and hire armies of lawyers and lobbyists.
That might read as an exaggeration to some, but it's a verifiable fact of the American political system. A new analysis of 1,779 recent policy outcomes by researchers at Princeton and Northwestern found that "economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy," while average citizens -- the people in "We, the People" -- "have little or no independent influence."
Why? Because if you want representation in today's Washington, you must buy your way in.
Another recent study by researchers at Yale and UC Berkeley found that members of Congress were four times as likely to take a meeting with a prospective donor than with a regular constituent. That's a whole lot of attention for a vanishingly small number of people: Just 0.12% of the population made $200 or more in political contributions in the last election cycle.
Keep in mind those were just the results for "prospective donors" with no prior relationships to the members of Congress contacted in the study. Complete strangers, in other words. Imagine the access granted to known donors and former colleagues. As Mark Leibovich noted in his book This Town, "In 1974, 3% of retiring members of Congress became lobbyists. Today 50% of senators and 42% of congressmen do." Now, combine that with the fact that those members of Congress who leave to become lobbyists enjoy, on average, a 1,452% raise. Combine that with the fact that the suburbs of Washington, D.C. now account for seven of the nation's 10 richest counties, and a very clear picture emerges.
This is a culture of corruption, made even worse by the recent McCutcheon Supreme Court ruling. Our nation's capital has become a place where those who have the money to buy their way in receive better treatment from our elected leaders than everyone else. That's great for the handful of people who can afford to buy access, but for the rest of us, it's taxation without representation.
If you're as fed up with this sorry state of affairs as I am, you'll understand why I couldn't stand to sit on the sidelines anymore. And I'm not alone. Today, Tax Day, thousands of Americans are taking part in a national day of action to remind our leaders that they're supposed to represent all of us, not just big donors. It's an important first step in building a national, nonpartisan anti-corruption movement to push for an overhaul of American campaign finance, lobbying, and ethics laws -- starting in cities and states, and eventually in Washington, DC.
In this fight against money in politics corruption, it's easy to lose sight of our biggest enemy. It's not lobbyists, or big donors, or even corrupt politicians.
Our biggest enemy is cynicism. It's the sense of hopelessness that leads some to dive straight for the comments section of articles like this one to leave snarky remarks about how democracy is doomed and change is impossible. This is a rational first instinct, even when a mind-boggling 97% of Americans support the kind of tough, new anti-corruption laws we need to actually fix this problem.
But change is possible, by building a movement while passing anti-corruption laws from the bottom up, across the nation, with the force of a movement that can eventually unseat politicians who stand in our way. And that's why days like today are so important. Photos and videos are already streaming in from demonstrations nationwide, and the results are truly inspiring. Thousands of people are coming together and organizing -- neighborhood by neighborhood, town by town, state by state -- to build the massive movement required to end the culture of corruption that's taken root in state capitals and Washington, DC.
Money in politics corruption is a national disgrace that does every hardworking American a disservice. As citizens of this great republic, it is our duty to put an end to this corruption once and for all. Lets start by demanding No Taxation Without Representation.
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