You may think that Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, and John Boehner would have very little in common, but in the chummy world of corporate special interest politics, all three of them share a top benefactor. According to an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity the top backer of the careers of all three politicians was telecom giant AT&T, but beyond ideology these three share a special interest money bond.
According to the Center for Public Integrity, “The single top career backer of Boehner, McConnell, and Reid, however, was the same: telecom giant AT&T. This included contributions from companies like BellSouth, Cingular, and SBC that are now part of the AT&T family. Between just these three politicians, AT&T’s PACs contributed more than $525,000 in campaign cash. This bipartisan investment has paid dividends over the years as the trio has backed the firm’s priorities on telecommunications legislation and played key roles in granting the company immunity for its participation in the George W. Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.”
While special interest money may not directly buy votes, it purchases something that you, I, and other regular Americans can never have, access. This is what makes the Supreme Court’s January ruling in the Citizen’s United case so egregious. When the court ruled that the government can’t ban direct corporate independent expenditures before elections, it furthered the gap between the voice of regular Americans, and corporate America’s access to our political system.
Our votes as Americans do count to get people elected, but the money that fuels the campaigns of candidates comes from giants like AT&T, who don’t donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to the top congress members out of a sense of civic duty. They donate because the cash gets those perks like immunity from prosecution for their illegal activities.
In the case of another heavyweight like JP Morgan Chase, who appears on the top 10 career donor list of three of the four top congressional leaders, their long term bankrolling gets them loads of bailout cash, sweetheart deals, and the ability to help call the shots on financial reform. Our current campaign finance system has led to a dysfunctional system where democracy is for sale to the highest corporate bidder. The path to taking back our democracy isn’t found in the politicians we elect, but it must begin with changing a corrupt system that is destroying the foundation of our republic.
Americans can’t count on politicians to break their addiction to special interest dollars, but as their anger and frustration grows, many people don’t see the true source of our dysfunction. The problem goes beyond electing Republicans and Democrats. Both parties bathe in the sewer of corporate dollars. The road back to a democracy for the people, of the people, and by the people, is to get the special interest dollars out of our politics through publicly funded elections. While the right and left are distracted by bickering, our democracy is being purchased by giants like AT&T, one political leader at a time.