The problem with money in politics

Column by Michael Alcorn
Posted 11/9/21

A few weeks ago, I stumbled into an event that, it turns out, was a fundraiser for a politician. I had other things to do, so I didn’t give it a lot of thought, but I did take a moment to look …

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The problem with money in politics

Posted

A few weeks ago, I stumbled into an event that, it turns out, was a fundraiser for a politician. I had other things to do, so I didn’t give it a lot of thought, but I did take a moment to look around the room at the people there. Most of them I didn’t know (not really my circle, you know?), but I did recognize a few: there were representatives of trade unions, there was a bank president, there were a handful of lawyers.

Not exactly a gathering of “average Joes.”

And it occurred to me that each of the people there had done one thing in common: they had paid a price to have access to a politician.

Access to a politician — that is, access to the workings of government — are a matter of money. This is not really news, of course. “The West Wing” was fond of pointing out that, from the day a Congressman or -woman takes their oath of office, they need to raise $10,000 a week to have a legitimate shot at re-election; that number jumps a bit if somebody wants to displace an incumbent. And that show ran *twenty years ago*. One can only wonder what weekly haul is necessary today.

Money is the lifeblood of politics.

And we wonder why the system is corrupt.

I am not one of those people who think all money is bad — in this instance, I’m sure the politician in question and their audience have many beliefs in common, and the money collected that day probably represented the belief that their interests would be well-represented by a person who shared their values.

But the moms and dads and retired grandparents whose interests are usually putting food on the table and seeing that their children are well-educated are, generally, too busy working and living their lives to take the time or spend their money to get access to the process in the same way. And that leaves the system vulnerable to corruption.

The Colorado Sun published an article a couple weeks ago detailing money spent in the Jefferson County school board race. As of that date, there was about $250,000 raised to be spent in that race; about $225,000 of that was spent on the slate supported by the teachers’ union. On top of that, an outside group — who, at that time, did not have to detail the source of its money — was spending quite a bit of money in Jeffco and other districts around the state in support of union-backed candidates.

Again, similar beliefs lead to support, as represented by money. But, don’t you have to ask yourself: is it right that teachers’ unions have the wherewithal to spend lavishly getting the people elected who, in a few short months, will be sitting across the table from them during contract negotiations? On its face, it looks like a perfect loop of corruption. The same loop as when defense contractors spend lavishly to get pro-military politicians elected, and large corporate donations tend to end up as favorable tax breaks for corporations.

I’m not saying that the people are corrupt. I’m saying that the system itself is corrupt. And, for what it’s worth, apparently Jeffco voters are just fine with the system, as they voted by wide margins to maintain the status quo. Other districts chose ... differently.

I’ve written before about the idea of a “linchpin,” a small but significant component of any system which, were it to be removed, could cause the system to collapse. I’m starting to believe that money is the linchpin of our current political system. That the money which flows to politicians from what is inevitably the extremes of our philosophical spectrum dictate the extremism of our system. And that contributes mightily to our dysfunction as a body politic.

The question, then, is this: is that dysfunction painful enough to be worth fighting to change the system?

Michael Alcorn is a former teacher and current writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Valkyrie’s Kiss,” a finalist in the ScreenCraft Book Competition, is available now at mjalcorn@comcast.net. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

Michael Alcorn, Jeffco schools, politics, money

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