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December 11, 2017

The bridge from Wall Street to Washington

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Marketplace opened on Oct.1 and despite computer glitches, the program had helped six people nationwide acquire coverage by the end of the first day. Meanwhile, insurance company CEOs are drooling over the massive profits that the ACA has brought the industry. The law is yet another example of government policy bending to the interests of the wealthy.

Before delving into the influence of money in American politics, let us first consider the political power of a single American citizen. We each get one vote, usually choosing from one of two candidates in elections that generally end with the predominant party as the victor by tens of thousands of votes. We are told that we can call or write our congressional representative, but this contact hardly ever ends in a meeting and most likely your grievance will find its way to the recycling bin. Of course, there is the ability to donate to a cause or candidate you believe in, but the amount that you can afford is likely a drop in the ocean compared to corporate contributions.

Now let’s consider the influence that the wealthiest corporations and individuals have on the political process. They can pay for their own political campaign and become a politician themselves, like outgoing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But politics can be a bore sometimes, so why not just take the president out for a game of golf and suggest policies over some complimentary drinks? Or if golf seems too exhausting, there’s always the option of staying at home and hiring lobbyists to take congressional representatives out to dinner and pay for their next campaign.

Sure, money does not guarantee political power – it only has a success rate of 95 percent in congressional elections for the House of Representatives and 80 percent in the Senate. Nevertheless, the largest investors in lobbying have a magnificent track record in getting what they want. Reuters reports that “30 brand-name companies paid a federal income tax rate of minus 6.7 percent on $160 billion of profit from 2008 through 2010 compared to a going corporate tax rate of 35 percent. All but one of those 30 companies reported lobbying expenses in Washington.”

The lobbying efforts of insurances companies cut any public option from the ACA and led to the mandate that every American citizen must purchase health insurance. The result was a final bill which guaranteed insurance companies more clients and no government competition, allowing them to raise premium costs. The passage of the ACA raised the common stock value of many insurance companies by 200-300 percent.

The will of the people cannot be completely disregarded – after all this is a democracy, right? The positives of the ACA cannot be overlooked: individuals with preexisting conditions can receive coverage, college students can remain on their parents’ plans and everyone receives “essential health benefits.” However, these benefits are only achieved by stuffing insurance companies’ pockets with a $500 billion subsidy paid by taxpayers and by requiring that everyone buy insurance or be fined.

Congress cannot be blamed for its bias toward the wealthy – everyone looks out for their own self-interest. The Guardian points out that, “There are 250 millionaires in Congress. As a whole, the polity’s median net worth is $891,506, nine times the typical US household.” And quite frankly it is the voters who place these individuals in power. All those million dollar campaign ads are just too good to resist.

It is fairly easy for politicians to cater to the needs of the top earners in the country to the detriment of everyone else, because everyone else isn’t paying attention. In the 2012 presidential election, only 37 percent of Americans said they were following the election closely. Presidential elections are a special time, they receive the highest voter turnout of all U.S. elections and so many more people than usual are following politics.

Even when people do choose to pay attention to the news in an attempt to be informed, most choose television as their primary source, or other mainstream outlets. It may come as no surprise that this news coverage has a slant for the wealthy when it becomes known that six corporations control 90 percent of American media outlets. So Americans try to make a choice outside of the campaign ad propaganda, they are subjected to a media which ignores the problems of the poor and focuses on popularity contests over substantive issues.

The only way to end the extensive influence that money has on politics is for the electorate to become more aware of the phenomena and pressure their representatives to stop catering to financial interests. The wealthiest Americans are the most active in politics, and in turn, politics works in their favor. Whether or not you pay attention to or care about political events, they will still impact and likely exploit you.

Jason Roche is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at jwroche@umass.edu.

 

Comments
2 Responses to “The bridge from Wall Street to Washington”
  1. Genghis Khan says:

    No.

    The only way to end the endless lobbying is to end subsidies, credits, etc., that can favor a company or industry.

    The rules MUST be the same for every player, large or small.

  2. Alex says:

    There will never be an end to business lobbying as long as private business exists. Even if somehow all the government favors to business disappeared tomorrow, like Genghis Khan suggests, that would just make businesses start lobbying for those favors to be re-instated. And within a few years they would succeed.

    This problem can only be fixed by having politicians no longer depend on corporate money to be elected. Public financing of all election campaigns (and a ban on the use of private funds for campaigning) is the only way to remove the influence of money on politics.

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