Millions. Billions. Trillions. Americans are pretty much numb to big numbers anymore, especially when politicians toss off unfathomably large dollar figures when talking about the national debt or projected budget surpluses. Nonetheless, it is incredible to consider that political groups are expected to have spent $3 billion to influence the outcome of this year's federal elections.
That's a 36 per cent increase over four years ago. And you thought inflation was in check.
“More money will change hands this year, from donor to politician, than ever before in the history of the republic,” said Larry Makinson, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Hey, isn't that just free enterprise? Not to a growing number of Americans, who see the political money game, as presently constituted, for what it really is: an insidious form of legalized bribery that is distorting the public-policy landscape by the day and further undermining trust in government.
What is particularly distressing is that the money increasingly is coming from special interests who want something specific - chiefly beneficial laws, rules, and regulations - in return. This is evident in the doubling during this election cycle of so-called soft money, the funds collected by political parties in unlimited amounts from corporations, unions, and wealthy individuals. Hard money contributions donated to the parties under federal contribution limits are running about the same as four years ago.
Among the special interests, the computer industry has rapidly increased its political giving, rising from 33rd among 80 industries tracked to 8th this year.
Other interests have a more predictable bent. Democrats got 67 per cent of the $74 million given by lawyers, and 93 per cent of organized labor's $56 million. Business money goes overwhelmingly to Republicans, with corporations donating $842 million, outspending labor 15 to 1. Top business givers to the GOP include the auto industry, 82 per cent of $12 million; oil and gas, 79 per cent of $23 million, and finance, insurance, and real estate, 61 per cent of $195 million.
Since politics is not physics, a whole lot of giving doesn't always equal a whole lot of getting. But the debts will come due in 2001 with a new administration and a new Congress. As Mr. Makinson observes, the “investors” in this election “will not be shy about making their priorities known to the people they helped elect.”