Thought Money Could Buy an American Election? You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

Published on
The Guardian/UK

Thought Money Could Buy an American Election? You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

The supreme court's relaxing of donation rules just made US elections even more undemocratic and corruptible

Supreme Court building, Washington, DC, USA. Front facade. (Photo: Daderot / Wikimedia Creative Commons)

The finance chairman of the Republican national committee, Ray Washburne, travelled to Chicago last Wednesday to solicit money from two big funders who had reached their donation limit for this election cycle. While he was on the plane, the supreme court ruled that there would no longer be any limits. Washburne told the New York Times that when he landed and heard the news, he said: "Eureka". He came back with promises of more cash.

It's the American Way. Just as the constitution ostensibly requires that AK47s be available on demand, it was also apparently designed to open the sluicegates to money in politics, until the entire landscape is flooded with cash and cynicism and the border between what is unethical and what is legal is washed away. It's what the funding fathers intended.

There are lots of areas of American society that could do with more money: preschools, infrastructure, mental health clinics, homeless shelters. The one place it's not needed is in politics. Even in this most polarised of moments, this is one of the few things on which most Americans agree. Indeed, support for limits on campaign donations is high among all income and education levels, party allegiances and political philosophies, and has remained consistent over the last five years. During that time, the supreme court has systematically removed many of the restrictions that did exist. In 2008 spending on the presidential election almost doubled compared with 2004. In 2012 it almost quadrupled compared with 2008. "Every presidential election is the most expensive ever. Elections don't get cheaper," the federal election chairwoman, Ellen Weintraub, told Politico.

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Gary Younge

Gary Younge is editor-at-large for the Guardian. He was based in the U.S. for 12 years before recently returning to London. He also writes a monthly column, “Beneath the Radar,” for the Nation magazine and is the Alfred Knobler Fellow for the Nation Institute. His new book is Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives (Nation Books).

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