Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10 to 7 to approve the use of military force in Syria. A Maplight analysis reveals that senators voting 'yes' received, on average, 83 percent more campaign money from defense contractors than senators voting 'no.'
These numbers are unnerving to a war-weary American public still licking its wounds from a $2 trillion, 10-year quagmire in Iraq justified by lies about alleged weapons of mass destruction. That public is profoundly distrustful of its leaders who have achieved power in a system of, by, and for whichever interests have the most money.
The mere idea that politicians voting on matters of war and peace -- life and death -- could be influenced by contributions is the most perverted money in politics nightmare. You can be sure that senators voting 'yes' on Syria emphatically deny a quid pro quo with military industrial donors, saying that defense lobbyists give them money because they happen to agree on military matters, and because everyone on the Foreign Relations Committee gets more money from those industries. That's just how the status quo is.
But the status quo is the problem. Politicians should not be allowed to receive money from interests they regulate. Period. As soon as Foreign Relations Committee members take money from the very companies that stand to make millions from military action, we the people can no longer be unequivocally sure that they are making decisions purely on the merits of what's best for our nation.
Even if quid pro quo politics had no role in last week's Syria vote, the glaring problem is that 93 percent of the time, the political candidate with the most money wins. Deep-pocketed interests know the game, so they spend millions on lobbying expenditures, contributions and PAC donations to support their favored candidates -- in this case military hawks who are more likely to support intervention. Can you blame them? They're playing by the rules we give them, and they are playing the system like a Stradivarius while raking in breathtaking profits.
This special interest capture of government and policymaking is the same dysfunction that led to the financial meltdown of 2008; the failure to curb exorbitant profiteering in the health care industry; the failure to enact policies that actually help the middle class and create jobs, rather than just talk about it... the list goes on.
But in 2013, rather than hear about real solutions to this profound political dysfunction, we await the October 8th opening arguments of the "McCutcheon v. FEC" Supreme Court case that would make things even worse. It would remove the "aggregate" contribution limits that prevent wealthy donors from giving more than $123,000 to federal candidates and political parties each election cycle. Yep, our highest court is actually considering a radical "Citizens United 2" that would yet again slash our already-shredded campaign finance laws.
This story is not about whether military action in Syria is warranted or not. There are legitimate arguments on both sides of that debate. This is about the fact that the laws that govern campaign finance and lobbying range from profoundly broken to nonexistent. Congress has become much like a bunch of despots in a lawless nation. Lobbyists give them what they want, and the Supreme Court is their protection racket. It's up to us, the people, to restore law, order, and fairness to the system that funds and elects our lawmakers. And to do that, millions of us must wake up to the gravity of the problem and coalesce around a few winning reform proposals. We must force our leaders to enact those reforms, and we must unseat politicians who stand in our way. We must build a massive movement made up of Americans progressive, conservative and disaffected as we build an anti-corruption movement unlike any our nation has ever seen before. This is our only hope, and its time to get started.