If we ever hope to be a truly fair representative democracy, we need to have campaign finance reform. The Republicans in the Senate have just blocked a proposed Constitutional amendment that might help do that. In America, the money owns the people. Not the other way around.
The passage of the Democracy For All Amendment was considered a "long shot"—but, like many political long shots, the overwhelming real world rightness of it garnered it a lot of attention. The fact that money corrupts our political process is such a clear and true point to most Americans with a brain in their heads that one would think (if one didn't understand politics) that removing money from the political process would be a naturally popular idea. In a democracy, this would be true. In an oligarchy, which is what we have, money seeks to protect its own influence. Which is why Senate Republicans, serving the interest of what got them to where they are—money—shot down the bill.
The amendment would have given Congress and the states the power to set limits on campaign spending. It would have overridden the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which held that political spending by corporations amounted to free speech. As long as that is the official posture of the law, it will take a strong Constitutional amendment to rid our national political system of the pervasive influence of private money, from corporations, interest groups, and the rich. This amendment would have at least allowed for the possibility of that. It was voted down in the Senate 54-42.
Campaign finance reform is not a sexy issue. But the implications of campaign finance reform are fairness and opportunity themselves. We as a nation need to decide whether our political process will be for sale. Currently, politics is just another investment for businesses and moneyed interests. They give money to politicians to get elected. When those politicians get elected, they repay the loan with favorable legislation. Politics is one of the best investments that corporations can make. Even at a billion dollars per presidential election cycle, it's a bargain.
That is what we have. It is a business. It has nothing to do with representing the interests of the masses of people. In order to free our elected representatives from being trapped in this dynamic, we must somehow change our system so that money is not the primary driver of elections. This can be done through public financing, campaign donation restrictions, or other methods. The important thing is that it gets done. If it is not done, everyone should understand that our entire political process will remain, at its core, a business to serve the rich. If you do not think that our democracy should operate as a business to serve the rich, you should support campaign finance reform. The idea of corporate money as "free speech" is a ridiculous canard. Even the Republicans don't believe in that as a principle. They just benefit from it.
We need to enact campaign finance reform. And we need to stop gerrymandering and put in place a fair and impartial system of districts so that incumbents are not allowed to use their power to protect their own jobs from public choice. These two procedural changes alone—which sound boring, and which do not inspire great jazzy rhetoric on cable television—would absolutely revolutionize our political process, and our nation itself. (We should also abolish the grossly undemocratic U.S. Senate, but that one can wait a while, I imagine.)
The American public is often accused of being cynical about politics. The opposite is true. The American public is all too realistic about our political system. They know that it serves the rich and the powerful, and not them. The real cynics are those who perpetuate the system as it is now. They speak of freedom, and hope, and patriotism. Meanwhile they do everything in their power to ensure that politics serves them, and not you. We spend all our time arguing about the foul output of our political system. We should be reckoning with the flaws in the inputs. Until you fix the money going into our political system, it will always produce laws that serve moneyed interests. Until we fix our diet, we'll just keep getting the same old shit.