by Sam Sholi
With Congress’ approval rating at a resoundingly low 9% amongst American citizens according to a survey by Public Policy Polling, it can be assumed that the American people have finally become conscious of the fact that the U.S’ political system, or at least those within it, no longer work in their interests.
Now that Congress is less popular than traffic jams, head lice, cockroaches and colonoscopies (according to the same survey), one can’t help but wonder what has driven Congress to appear so incompetent and to be subject to such an intense level of dissatisfaction amongst U.S citizens.
The answer is clear – the major influence of corporations, lobbyists, and wealthy campaign donors has resulted in ensuring that a vast number of American politicians are now nothing more than mouthpieces for the highest earners and biggest businesses in America. This problem is compounded by the U.S Supreme Court decision in the case of Citizens United V Federal Electoral Commission in 2010, where it ruled corporations have the same First Amendment rights as people and therefore can make unlimited campaign contributions during election campaigns.
The Center for Responsive Politics (a nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit research organization dedicated to tracking money in U.S politics and its effect on elections and public policy), cited that statistically, even in the most competitive cycles during congressional elections, on average the candidates who spend the most on their campaigns usually win eight of 10 Senate contests and nine of 10 House races. The evidence conclusively proves that the defining factor in deciding who sits in Congress no longer bears any relation to your ideology, whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, or whether you are a liberal or conservative. It’s all about the money!
The effect of this has been disastrous. The fact that these politicians are predominantly elected because they can afford to run superior election campaigns means that sometimes American congressmen and senators will be elected despite being simply unfit to do their job. The most notable example of this being how last year Congressman Scott Desjarlais (TN, 4th District) was re-elected – a Republican who was disgraced during last year’s congressional elections for having multiple mistresses and requesting one of them to have an abortion, despite running his campaign on being a pro-life, pro-family values candidate. Of course, Dejarlais spent more money than his rival for his seat.
The second problem that arises under this current system is the fact that several U.S politicians are no longer acting based on their own instincts, but for their donors. Is it really a coincidence that Gun rights groups have given more than $17 million in individual, PAC and soft money contributions to federal candidates and party committees since 1989, yet we still have failed to see any serious gun-control measures despite public outcry for it after every mass shooting in the last 25 years?
The only way to avoid this problem will be to introduce a 28th Constitutional amendment that not only overrules the decision in Citizens United, but also prevents an elite class of donors being able to exercise their current entitlement to effectively buy the country’s elections through excessively high campaign donations. In order to achieve this, the amendment must contain a provision to make it illegal for corporations to directly or indirectly give money to any politician, and a provision which places a cap on the amount politicians can raise from any individual.
But if so many congressmen and senators are under the influence of corporate interests and wealthy donors, then why would they accept such an amendment? The answer is that they don’t have to. It is possible to bypass Congress. If two-thirds of the State legislatures (whose members are not as heavily influenced by money) call for a Constitutional Convention then it will become possible to pass the amendment.
This presents a real opportunity for America to take back its democracy. But as was the case with the success of the 1960s civil rights movement amongst African-Americans, if this amendment is to be passed then there will need to be a movement with leaders (like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X) that can inspire a mass movement of people to stand up for that change.
But in order for that to happen, America must first undergo a revolution of consciousness and wake up to the fact that a vote at the ballot cannot compensate for the erosion of a democracy.
Sam Sholi is currently studying law in a university in the United States